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LONDON (AP) — Downing Street has backtracked on the leak of a government guide for world leaders traveling to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral that required them to abandon their official cars and arrive by shuttle bus.
Official documents issued to embassies abroad and obtained by POLITICO on Sunday indicated that world leaders “shall” leave their personal vehicles at a site in west London on September 19 and attend the funeral in shared coaches. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) blamed “heavy road and security restrictions” for the move.
On Monday, the prime minister’s official spokesman confirmed that the UK government, rather than Buckingham Palace, is taking the lead on logistical arrangements, but declined to comment on specific details “for operational security arrangements”.
But when asked if US President Joe Biden was really expected to arrive at Westminster Abbey on a bus, the spokesman said it would be left to the US leader to decide.
“I think that would be a question for the United States and how they prefer the president to travel,” he said.
“I would say that clearly arrangements for leaders, including how they travel, will vary based on individual circumstances. And guidance and information provided is guidance.”
However, the private document sent to the embassies on Saturday night was unequivocal. “The representatives abroad invited to attend the state funeral will have to travel in escorted coaches through [a location in west London]where their own vehicles can wait,” he said.
The document also advised world leaders to take commercial flights to the UK where possible, but said private planes could be used if they arrive at London’s less busy airports.
Earlier Monday, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he would ignore the guidance and attend the funeral on his official plane.
“I will fly this Thursday night from Australia,” Albanese told ABC Breakfast. “Those plans have been in place for a long period of time, since long before he made me prime minister.”
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles told ABC Radio National that it would not be “wise” for a world leader like Albanese to take a commercial flight, despite advice from the FCDO.
Marles, who also serves as Australia’s defense minister, said security was the “paramount consideration”.
“There are real problems with having prime ministers on commercial planes in terms of the safety of the public who are also on those planes. So we have to be sensible about it,” she said.
Meanwhile, the list of confirmed guests continues to grow for a diplomatic event with few parallels in recent times. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol confirmed their attendance on Monday.
Leaders such as the President of the United States, Joe Biden, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, had already done so last week.
Also likely to attend the funeral are Japan’s Emperor Naruhito, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and France’s President Emmanuel Macron, among many others.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not yet confirmed whether he will travel to London. There has been no word yet from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who will leave China this week for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began to attend a summit in Central Asia.
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