I rise to honour the service and the sacrifice of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and to extend my condolences to His Majesty King Charles III and the royal family.
To serve as head of state to 15 countries and head of the commonwealth for over 70 years is truly remarkable, and it was done with unstinting dignity and commitment. In a world where the average head of state or head of government might hold office for five years Her Majesty was the world’s most experienced leader for well over half a century. The global outpouring of grief highlights the unifying person that Her Majesty was in this country, in the commonwealth and around the world.
To be in the same room as the Queen was to experience the magic of the monarchy—a magic, an energy, an excitement and a respect that no partisan and elected Prime Minister, Premier or President could ever match. Her Majesty’s reign represented continuity and stability—continuity and stability in our constitutional arrangements and continuity and stability in our democracy. Her Majesty’s commitment to the ideal of constitutional monarchy was complete.
At the age of 96 and just two days before her death Her Majesty was continuing her constitutional duty in commissioning a new Prime Minister. As Boris Johnson reflected, Her Majesty’s greatest legacy was providing the stability and certainty that ensured the seamless transfer of constitutional power to a new monarch, as we have seen in the last two days.
I particularly want to reflect on the sacrifice that Her Majesty made in carrying out her duty. In a speech to Westminster yesterday His Majesty the King referred to ‘the office to which I have been called’. Her Majesty was not born to be sovereign. As the niece of a King, she could have expected to live a relatively normal life. Instead at age 10 it suddenly became her destiny to be called to the throne.
For those of us in this place public life is a choice; for Her Majesty it was an unexpected destiny over which she had no choice. From acceding the throne at 25, her life was never going to be her own—every day programmed months in advance, year after year after year, for 70 years.
Ministers can attest to the scourge of ministerial briefs. Her Majesty lived a life where red boxes, ministerial briefs if you like, arrived every single day and were destined to arrive every single day for the rest of her life. To be briefed on every major decision, approve every order in council and assent to every bill is no doubt a great privilege but also an unending burden.
To be the most recognised person in the world is to sacrifice any possibility of a normal life, with no possibility of doing the things we take for granted: simply walking down the street, going to a restaurant or walking through a park, not only in your home town, state or country but in virtually any place on earth. And it was not only for a few years while in office but for Her Majesty’s entire life.
Her Majesty pledged herself to service at the age of 21 and honoured that pledge unfailingly for more than 75 years. Her Majesty lived one life, but that one life touched millions of lives around the world. We can be grateful for the life of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. May she now rest in peace.