Tears, cheers and heartfelt laughter in MPs' tribute to Queen Elizabeth

British politicians reflect on the 70-year reign of a woman who 'showed the world how to give, how to love, and how to serve'

Former prime minister Theresa May momentarily lifted the spirits with amusing anecdotes about Queen Elizabeth as MPs paid tribute to the late monarch. AP
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In a parliament darkened by MPs universally dressed in black, Britain’s leading politicians led tributes to the late Queen Elizabeth II.

At times tears welled from emotional eulogies and at others there was hearty and sometimes hilarious laughter as anecdotes of personal meetings with the queen were recounted.

Throughout, not a cross word spoken or political point scored with every speaker returning to their seat with loud report of “hear, hear” from all sides of the divide.

Never has the House been more unified in modern times, a fitting tribute to a monarch who worked tirelessly to keep her kingdom united.

Wearing black silk and carrying black swords, last used in 1952 on the death of the late queen’s father, King George VI, the Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle led a solemn procession into the House of Commons at midday.

MPs, with every man wearing a black tie and every woman in a black outfit, stood in silence for a minute, recalling the moments each had seen the queen in person.

A fortunate few had far longer, with prime ministers' weekly audiences often lasting an hour.

Sadly for the incumbent, Liz Truss, she had barely half an hour with her sovereign whose wisdom, wit and knowledge had a profound effect on all 15 of her prime ministers.

“Anyone who met her will remember the moment, they will speak of it for the rest of their lives,” Ms Truss said. “She generously shared with me her deep experience of government, even in those last days.”

The queen “reinvented monarchy for the modern age”, ensuring that she “was dignified but not distant” and willing to have fun, whether with James Bond or Paddington Bear.

With a reference to the economic crisis gripping Britain, Ms Truss said the country needed to draw on the queen’s courage and “show the world that we do not fear what lies ahead”.

 Prime Minister Liz Truss leads tributes to Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in the House of Commons in central London. AFP

She finished by being the first MP to utter “God Save the King”, a phrase repeated frequently throughout the sitting.

In a moving and well-pitched speech, Sir Keir Starmer said “we loved her”.

“She did not simply reign over us,” the Labour leader said, referencing a line from the national anthem. “She lived alongside us. She shared in our hopes and our fears and our pain, our good times and bad. Never was this link more important than when our country was plunged into lockdown at the start of the pandemic.”

Using a quote from the great British poet Philip Larkin, he said “the loss of our queen robs this country of its stillness point, its greatest comfort at precisely the time, we need those things most”.

He asked the country to join him in wishing King Charles III to have a “long, happy and successful reign”, a request met with loud cross-party support.

Three rows behind Ms Truss, the blond hair easily identifiable among the sea of black, sat Boris Johnson, who had only on Tuesday spent 40 minutes with his monarch to tender his resignation as prime minister. “She was as knowledgeable and as fascinated by politics, as ever I can remember.”

He then touched on the emotions many in Britain and beyond were feeling. “I think millions of us are trying to understand why we are feeling this deep, personal and almost familiar sense of loss,” he said. “She showed the world how to give, how to love, and how to serve.”

He then made the historical point that the queen, who served as an army vehicle mechanic, was the “last living person in British public life to serve in uniform in the Second World War”.

He praised too her 1940 wartime BBC broadcast when as 14-year-old girl she reassured British children “we know every one of us that in the end, all will be well”.

It was a tribute to “Elizabeth the Great”, as he named her, that the “succession has already seamlessly taken place” with King Charles III taking the throne as sovereign.

Theresa May, just two places across the aisle from Mr Johnson, her political nemesis, had hosted the queen on what proved to be her last official outing when opening a hospice in the former prime minister's Maidenhead constituency.

“She exuded a warmth and humanity” and for so many people “meeting Queen Elizabeth simply made their day and for so many will be the memory of their life”.

But then the normally dispassionate MP had her colleagues laughing hard as she recounted two anecdotes, starting with a dream her husband experienced during a weekend at Balmoral.

“He was sitting in a Range Rover being driven around Balmoral estate. The driver was the queen and the passenger seat was occupied by his wife, the prime minister, and then he woke up and realised it was reality.”

On another occasion the guests went for royal picnic where everyone “mucked in” to put food and drink on the table. Ms May put some cheese on a plate but as she carried it over it fell to the ground.

“I had a split second decision to make on the plate,” she said to great amusement. “I picked up the cheese, put it on the plate and put it on the table. I turned around to see that my every move had been watched very carefully by her majesty the queen. I looked at her. She looked at me. And she just smiled.” Laughter again filled the chamber, momentarily banishing some of the pain of loss.

The queen was “remarkable” and “I doubt we’ll ever see her like again” Ms May concluded.

It fell to Harriet Harman to disclose the truly humane side of the queen, not always seen beyond the strictures of royal protocol.

In 1998 the Labour MP had been sacked from her Cabinet post and “my diary was empty and my phone stopped ringing”.

Then her parliamentary office got a call from Buckingham Palace. “No one else wants to have anything to do with you but the queen wanted to see me,” she said. “I was invited to take tea with the queen, for her to thank me for my service.”

The queen achieved “constitutional alchemy” she said, by never letting her position of power meddle with politics.

The tributes continued until 10pm on Friday and will continue again when parliament takes the rare step of sitting on a Saturday with senior MPs asked to swear a new oath of allegiance to the king.

Updated: September 09, 2022, 6:01 PM