Update: Queen Elizabeth II died on Sept. 8, 2022. Read her obituary here.
When the world’s longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, dies, it will be communicated with four simple words: “London Bridge is down.”
The phrase refers to “Operation London Bridge,” Britain’s not-so-secret plan for how to proceed in the event of the monarch’s passing. Although the plan itself has been public knowledge for years, the renewed focus on the Queen’s deteriorating health puts the details of those plans, much of which was leaked to Politico last year, as well as how those plans could change, into sharp relief.
Read More: Queen Elizabeth II Under Medical Supervision
Here’s what is known about it:
How will the world find out if the monarch has died?
On the day of the Queen’s death, known simply as D-Day, the news will be delivered to the British Prime Minister by the Queen’s private secretary, who will also inform the cabinet secretary (the country’s highest civil servant) and the monarchy’s formal body of advisers, known as the Privy Council. The news will then go out to the leaders of the more than 50 countries making up the British Commonwealth. Meanwhile, a newsflash will be sent to the U.K.’s Press Association, the country’s national news agency, as well as the rest of the world’s media. At the BBC, a Cold-War era alarm known as the Radio Alert Transmission System (or RATS, for short) will be activated. Television anchors will change into black attire. News outlets in Britain and around the world will rush to publish pre-prepared obituaries.
Perhaps the most formal notice will come from Buckingham Palace itself, where the “Official Notification” of the Queen’s death will be pinned to the palace gates. The Royal Family’s website, which will be set against a black background, will publish a statement confirming the death.
What happens after the news is announced?
Ordinary government business will effectively come to a halt, with the U.K. parliament, as well as its devolved legislatures in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, being adjourned. In Whitehall, the London neighborhood where the British government sits, flags will be flown at half mast. The Prime Minister will make a statement and a national minute of silence will be announced. A service of remembrance is expected to take place at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, with the Prime Minister and other senior ministers in attendance.
On the same day, the plan for the ascension of Prince Charles to the throne—dubbed Operation Spring Tide—will be underway. The Prime Minister will hold an audience with Prince Charles, who will then deliver his first broadcast to the nation at 6 p.m. local time.
When would the funeral take place?
The funeral is expected to take place 10 days after the Queen’s death. Should that happen at her Balmoral estate in Scotland, where the Queen is currently, her coffin will be transported down to London by royal train (dubbed Operation UNICORN) or by plane (Operation OVERSTUDY), where it will be received by the Prime Minister and other senior government figures.
Four days after the Queen’s death, there will be a procession from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster, where her coffin will lie in state before the funeral. It is here where the public will be able to pay their respects to the Queen.
The state funeral will be held at Westminster Abbey and will be considered a Day of National Mourning, with a two-minute period of silence to be observed across the nation at midday. After the funeral, the Queen will be buried at Windsor Castle next to her late husband, Prince Philip, and her father, King George VI.
Does Prince Charles automatically become King?
As the heir apparent, Prince Charles will automatically inherit the throne, as well as all the rights and responsibilities that come with it, at the time of his mother’s death. At 11 a.m. local time on the day after the Queen’s death, the Accession Council will be convened to formally proclaim Charles the new sovereign. Whether he will be “King Charles III,” however, is still unclear. The new monarch, whose full name is Charles Philip Arthur George, could choose to be known by another name instead. His wife, Camilla, will adopt the title Queen Consort in accordance with his mother’s wishes.
Following his ascension, Prince Charles will meet with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet before embarking on a tour of the U.K., beginning in Scotland.
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