Operation True Blue got under way yesterday as a special British cabinet office committee was set up to co-ordinate the logistics of staging Margaret Thatcher’s grand ceremonial funeral, to be held next Wednesday.
As the guest list was being drawn up, it emerged Queen Elizabeth II would break with royal protocol and attend the St Paul’s Cathedral service.
It will be the first time she has attended the funeral service of a former prime minister since Winston Churchill’s state ceremony in 1965. Buckingham Palace officials described the service for the eighth and longest-serving prime minister of her reign as a “unique” occasion.
The body of Britain’s first female prime minister was moved yesterday by private ambulance in the early hours from the Ritz hotel suite where, according to friends, Mrs Thatcher died at 11.28am on Monday after having a stroke while sitting in bed reading a book.
Cabinet office minister Francis Maude yesterday chaired the first of what will be daily committee meetings in the lead-up to the funeral. Codenamed True Blue, it was attended by representatives of the Thatcher family, Buckingham Palace, St Paul's Cathedral, the ministry of defence, the London Metropolitan police (the Met), the foreign office and Downing Street.
Scotland Yard will put in place long-standing policing plans to balance the right to protest with the rights of those seeking to pay their respects. Senior officers are assessing intelligence to identify any groups likely to cause disruption to the funeral or use the global stage presented by the occasion to commit violence.
Police are also assessing the level of any terrorist threat, given the presence of the queen and other dignitaries.
A Met spokesman said: “We are mindful that this occasion has the potential to attract protest. The MPS wishes to speak to anyone who may choose to demonstrate on Wednesday, or in the coming days, so their right to protest can be upheld whilst respecting the rights of Mrs Thatcher’s family and those who wish to pay their respects.”
Thousands of officers are expected to be deployed. According to police insiders, Met commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has favoured a show of force at past events. If police are too heavy handed, they risk accusations of trampling on rights to protest, but any substantial loss of control of the streets, or disruption to the funeral, will be embarrassing for the police and damage already strained relationships with the Conservative Party.
British prime minister David Cameron and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg will be among about 2,500 guests, along with family, friends, and senior politicians at home and abroad who worked with Mrs Thatcher and those who served in her cabinet.
No 10 Downing Street is expected to begin releasing details of the guest list today. There is speculation it could include former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and former US first lady Nancy Reagan.
Permission was granted by the queen for a ceremonial funeral with full military honours, and her attendance, accompanied by the duke of Edinburgh, is significant.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: “It’s a unique occasion where the prime minister is being given a ceremonial funeral with military honours. Her Majesty gave consent to the plans proposed by the government and Lady Thatcher’s family some time ago.”
The two women, according to observers, enjoyed a relationship that was "more businesslike than warm". In his acclaimed biography of the monarch, the late Ben Pimlott, quoted an unnamed ex-minister close to Mrs Thatcher: "She was affected by the aura, the trappings but she was slightly nervous. I think she was in awe of the position."
Another source said the prime minister regarded the obligatory summer trip to Balmoral as “purgatory”.
Mr Maude said of the queen and duke of Edinburgh’s decision to attend: “[Mrs Thatcher] was a very long-standing prime minister and she was transformational for Britain, but also made such a huge difference in the world and I think it’s very significant that they want to attend in person.”
Government sources have said Mrs Thatcher vetoed a state funeral as it would require a parliamentary Bill to permit public funds to be used and she feared that would prompt a divisive debate.
But there is little visible difference between a state and ceremonial funeral. – (Guardian service)