December 4, 2023

King Charles III reads the First Government Statement in Parliament

London. The British Parliament has been opened at Westminster for centuries. On this day in November, government plans for the coming months are read out. But this time it was clearly Charles III. With care. Because on Tuesday, a monarch addressed the House of Lords for the first time in 70 years. From the perspective of many Britons, it was a historical moment that once again made it clear that the Second Elizabethan Age had ended and the Carolingian Age had begun.

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When Queen Elizabeth II gave her first speech in 1952, she paid tribute to the duty of her father, King George VI. Now, with the lights dimmed and surrounded by pomp and circumstance, the monarch honored her late mother before presenting Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s agenda to the public.

The announcements from the House of Lords were in stark contrast to the royal pomp the 74-year-old wore, complete with an expensive robe and jeweled Imperial State Crown. Among other things, it deals with stiffening penalties for serious criminals, gradually increasing the age limit for buying tobacco, and licenses for new oil and gas drilling in the North Sea. The topics are where the Tories are trying to differentiate themselves from Labour, which represents a more climate-friendly trend and is currently 20 per cent ahead of the Conservatives in the polls.

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Charles read the Tories’ manifesto motionless

Charles, who has been committed to protecting the environment for decades, certainly doesn’t like these plans, observers agreed. And many were waiting to see if he would not frown during the ten-minute King’s speech. However, that didn’t happen. On the contrary: The 74-year-old read the show like a judge committed to neutrality, decidedly immobile and not allowed to influence the jury.

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The rituals surrounding the opening of Parliament are deeply rooted in English history. So this year too, security forces searched the basement of the Palace of Westminster for explosives on Tuesday morning. It refers to a failed plot in 1605 in which Roman Catholic rebels led by Guy Fawkes, along with the Protestant King James I, attempted to destroy the building. Only after the survey was completed did Charles III travel. A mile from Buckingham Palace in a golden carriage with Queen Camilla to the heart of British democracy.

LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 7: Queen Charles III and Queen Camilla travel to Buckingham Palace in the Diamond Jubilee State Coach after attending the State Opening of Parliament on November 7, 2023 in London, England. The speech, delivered by the monarch but written by the government, sets out the government’s priorities for the coming year. This parliamentary session will lead to the next general elections. (Photo by Carl Kort/Getty Images)

Unlike the Queen in previous decades, the King was greeted by raucous demonstrators when he arrived at Westminster. As announced, the republican system opened parliament to express dissatisfaction with the monarchy. Demonstrators, identified by their yellow signs, flags and T-shirts, positioned themselves in front of parliament and along the parade route, chanting “not my king” at the head of state. It was the first such demonstration since the coronation in May, when, among others, the group’s leader, Graham Smith, was arrested by police and detained for several hours.

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At Westminster, though part of the production, MPs clearly disobeyed. MPs deliberately went to the House of Lords to show their independence from the Crown, dazed and chattering. Indeed even political rivals Rishi Sunak and Opposition Leader Keir Starmer joked their way into the packed hall.

In his speech, Charles repeated in some variation, almost mantra-like, the government’s current motto, which Sunak reiterated on Twitter that morning on news service X. He promised “long-term results for a better future”.

Can Sunak fulfill this vision? However, many citizens doubt it. So this may have been the first and last opening of Parliament for the Prime Minister. After all, the next elections could be next fall. The Tories’ polls, to say the least, are likely to suffer an abysmal defeat.