Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral is Britain’s largest security operation since World War II

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Police officers enter the grounds of the Palace of Westminster in London on September 15.
Police officers enter the grounds of the Palace of Westminster in London on September 15. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

LONDON – Monday’s funeral of Queen Elizabeth II will be attended by more than 70 heads of government from around the world and presents the city with the biggest security challenge Britain has faced since World War II.

With up to 2 million people expected to line the streets and the royal family planning to walk outdoors behind the Queen’s coffin, police are trying to strike a balance between security and pomp.

Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings and Queens arriving from overseas add to the risk. Officers from Britain’s domestic and foreign intelligence services MI5 and MI6 are reviewing terrorist threats as part of the massive security team working at the funeral.

On Monday, snipers will be stationed on rooftops, surveillance drones will fly overhead and 10,000 uniformed police officers will be on duty, including thousands of plainclothes officers among the crowd. Police have been patrolling key areas with bomb-sniffing dogs for days. Private security guards help control the crowd.

Police officers from all corners of the country have arrived to help. From the Welsh Cavalry to the Royal Air Force, more than 2,500 uniformed military personnel will be on hand.

With hotels booked up, a few hundred young soldiers slept on office floors and showered in portable stalls set up in a car park near Buckingham Palace.

“It’s actually better than I’m used to,” said a soldier from Norfolk, some 100 miles north of London, as he headed to the outdoor showers with a towel slung over his shoulder.

A special unit called the Fixed Threat Assessment Center monitors “fixed” individuals – those who have been identified as having a potentially dangerous obsession with the royal family.

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The officers will knock on their door and ask them, “Take yours medication? Are you going to London this weekend?’” said Simon Morgan, a retired London police officer who served as personal protection officer for the Queen and other family members, including her son, now King Charles III, from 2007 to 2013.

“The events of the past week have undoubtedly made someone want to do something,” said Morgan, who now runs a private security firm.

London’s Metropolitan Police arrested a man rushing to the Queen’s coffin at Westminster Hall on Friday night.

A big problem is the possibility of injuries caused by crushing people. Some stations on the London Underground system are being marked as ‘entry only’ or ‘exit only’ to control the flow, and Transport for London is prepared to close stations if there are too many people there.

President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will be among nearly 500 foreign dignitaries, including at least 70 heads of government confirmed on Friday, arriving in London to pay respects to the nation’s longest-serving monarch.

Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako plan to be there along with about two dozen kings, queens, princes and princesses from countries like Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Denmark and Sweden. French President Emmanuel Macron, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrive. So did New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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British officials sent out invitations to the 200 or so nations with which the UK has full diplomatic relations. Delegations from Commonwealth countries can include up to 16 people, but almost all others are limited to the Head of State and one guest. Some heads of state who are unable to travel have named another senior official, according to a UK government official closely involved in the planning.

Some notable people who were not invited were Russian President Vladimir Putin and the President of Belarus because of their ongoing aggression in Ukraine. Some countries’ leaders, including North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, were not invited, but their ambassadors were.

Almost all the heads of government present will be transported in buses to the funeral at Westminster Abbey and a reception at Buckingham Palace on Sunday night. Several officers said it was easier to protect a handful of buses than dozens of cars. But it’s not what the guides are used to.

“You have decided to come. It’s a one-off event and the protocol will not be perfect,” said Kim Darroch, a former British ambassador to the United States. “Most of them will just suck it up and move on. This isn’t about her; This is about the queen. I think people will be reasonable.”

The Bidens are among the few leaders to get a special exception to the rules. You will ride in the heavily armored US Presidential Limousine known as “The Beast”. British officials said the decision was made based on safety assessments, not politics.

Hundreds of thousands of people have waited 7 hours or more to walk past the Queen’s coffin at Westminster Hall – a view lasting around 30 seconds.

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Up to 2 million people are expected to gather in the city center on Monday to watch her coffin pass and the royal family walk behind it.

“There is a very conscious desire for people to feel that this occasion is for everyone,” said Will Tanner, who was deputy head of politics at No 10 Downing Street to former Prime Minister Theresa May. “This is not just an official ceremony behind closed doors, but for all to attend and enjoy.”

The public will have multiple opportunities to see the royal family walk behind the Queen’s coffin.

First there is a short procession from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey for the funeral. Then, after the service, the coffin is taken in a 45-minute procession from the church to Wellington Arch on the corner of Hyde Park, where it is loaded onto a hearse for the 25-mile journey to Windsor Castle, west of London.

There will also be a third procession in Windsor – a half hour walk from the car to St George’s Chapel where she is buried.

Each time King Charles III. and Princes William and Harry and other senior members of the British royal family sit behind a 123-year-old horse-drawn gun carriage from Queen Victoria’s reign, carrying the Queen’s coffin.

“Security and ceremony are not happy bedfellows,” Bob Broadhurst – the chief police commander during Prince William and Catherine’s wedding and for the London 2012 Olympics – told reporters this week.

“You have to manage security in a way that is commensurate with the dignity of the occasion but doesn’t put anyone at greater risk than they have to,” he said.

British officials said their approach to security differs from the US approach.

“The American model is, you put them in a bubble, a secure bubble that nobody can get close to, you put them in armored vehicles,” Broadhurst said.

The royal family will be open, he said. “And this crowd of millions that will be in the streets has not been searched and cannot be searched. It’s absolutely scary. Everyone will be excited.”

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Darroch, who is also a former UK national security adviser, said the British have been able to be a little more outspoken than the Americans, partly because of the very different gun cultures in Britain and the United States.

“Your approach to security starts with the fact that so many Americans seem to be carrying handguns,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to get a gun in this country. It makes a big difference.”

He noted that there are still many threats and opportunities to cause chaos and violence. For example, Lord Mountbatten, King Charles III’s great-uncle, was killed in 1979 by a bomb planted by the Irish Republican Army.

Most British police officers do not carry guns, but specialized armed units will be on duty on Monday.

Several officials said the royal family believes it is important to stay physically close to the public at a time when more and more people, particularly younger generations, view the monarchy as an irrelevant relic.

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“They are essentially paid for by the taxpayer,” Darroch said. “If they were locked behind bulletproof glass, people wouldn’t like it and it would hurt their popularity. They have to be accessible.”

The cost of the security operation for the Queen’s funeral is enormous, involving so many different authorities that there are no reliable figures. But officials said the cost was far greater than anything else they had ever undertaken.

When Queen Elizabeth’s mother died in 2002, security costs exceeded $5 million. Security cost Prince William and Kate Middleton’s 2011 wedding more than $7 million. But these events were relatively small in scope and did not involve dozens of world leaders. The funeral of Prince Philip, the Queen’s husband, took place amid the restrictions of a coronavirus lockdown last year.

There have been some questions about the bill for taxpayers, particularly among those who aren’t fans of the monarchy, as the royal family is wealthy and many Britons are suffering economically from high inflation and rising energy bills.

Some people have fretted over traffic disruptions and school and store closures across the country. At least three Premier League football matches have been postponed due to insufficient officers being available to ensure security at these events.

But most respondents said the cost was worth it.

“The vast majority of Britons, I guarantee, will want this to be an impressive and flawless event with the eyes of the world on London,” said Darroch. “They won’t be the least bit interested in what it costs – curious maybe, but not resentful.”

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Paul Daniels, 63, who drives an electric version of the iconic black cabs, said he doesn’t care what the cost is – and that the country will get billions more back in future tourism.

“Everyone around the world will be watching, and many will want to vacation here after what they see,” he said. “But it’s not just tourism money. She deserved a good farewell and we all feel good when we see that. There’s nothing like a British royal funeral. The precision! The splendor!”

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