‘He made this country a better place’ – Boris Johnson leads tributes to Prince Philip

Sophia Sleigh and Joe Murphy
·5-min read
 (Sky News)
(Sky News)

Prince Philip “made this country a better place”, Boris Johnson said today as MPs returned to the Commons early to pay their respects.

Dressed in a black suit and tie, the Prime Minister offered the “heartfelt thanks” of the nation for the Duke of Edinburgh’s “unfailing dedication” to the country and the Commonwealth.

Mr Johnson said the duke gave us all a “model of selflessness” and acknowledged the country would want to consider a “suitable memorial” to Prince Philip “in due course”.

He said Prince Philip might have been “embarrassed or even exasperated” to receive the tributes but added: “He made this country a better place, and for that he will be remembered with gratitude and with fondness for generations to come.”

The Prime Minister also referred to the duke’s well-known gaffes, saying he “occasionally drove a coach and horses” through diplomatic protocol, adding: “He coined a new word – dontopedalogy – for the experience of putting your foot in your mouth.”

Mr Johnson said the world “did not hold it against him” and understood he was trying to “break the ice” and get people laughing.

Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle led MPs in a minute silence before paying his own tribute to the duke, saying “he never let the Queen down” and describing him as the “father of the nation”.

Leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer revealed he started the Duke of Edinburgh award at the age of 14 and described him as a “funny, engaging, warm and loving” man.

Former prime minister Theresa May described him as a “truly remarkable man” of “so many talents” and described spending time at Balmoral when Prince Philip recommended a walking route for her and her husband.

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey described Prince Philip as a “rock in the life of our nation” and one of Britain’s “greatest public servants of the last 100 years”.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford wore a kilt in the Commons and said: “At the very heart of this is a family grieving the loss of a beloved husband, a father, a grandfather and great grandfather.”

It comes as Members of Parliament were recalled early after the Easter break to pay tribute to Prince Philip.

MPs had been asked to wear appropriate mourning clothes and the Prime Minister had a haircut this morning as lockdown measures started easing.

Meanwhile, black armbands were worn by the Speaker and his senior officials for today’s session in honour of the Duke who died aged 99 on Friday.

Many gathered at Westminster while some joined via video link to show their gratitude to the Queen’s husband for his 70 years of service.

Labour’s Harriet Harman, the Mother of the House, said the Duke of Edinburgh was “ahead of his time” by choosing to put himself second and make his central role in life to support his wife in her role as the Queen.

Ms Harman told MPs: “He sought never to eclipse her, only to support her. Way back, halfway through the last century, that was profoundly counter-cultural.

“The expectation that was to be a man was to be the head of the family and, particularly when it comes to the public domain, it’s the man who will play the leading role and the wife who will support him. If that sadly still remains largely true today, how much more of an iron rule that was 70 years ago.

“So his decision to give up what would have been a glittering career in the navy and make his duty to support his wife in her role took him into unchartered territory and left him exposed – for if he was not the head of the family, what did that make him?

“There was no reassuring recognition that he was no less of a man for what he did in putting her first and putting himself second.

“Of course, it takes a remarkable man to be a leader. It takes an even more remarkable man to support a woman leader, and that’s what Prince Philip did.”

Green MP Caroline Lucas praised the Duke of Edinburgh for his sense of urgency on the issue of climate change.

Raising Philip’s comment that “there is a difference between being concerned for the conservation of nature and a bunny hugger”, Ms Lucas added: “Well, for the record, I don’t think there are many greens who champion animal protection without also being active on the wider causes on the threats to wildlife.

“But I am not for a moment trying to suggest that he was a card-carrying green activist, nor that his views on a wide range of issues concerning nature and animal protection, including hunting, align fully with today’s Green movement – they clearly do not.

“However, he was undoubtedly well ahead of his time when it came to understanding the importance of and our dependence on the natural world – and he played an important role in promoting that cause.”

She was followed by Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin who told the Commons: “We’ve just heard yet another remarkable tribute to His Royal Highness, dare I say the woke paying tribute to the unwoke.

“It underlines how His Royal Highness was the most amazing unifying figure, and perhaps those of us in this House and outside should take a lesson from this occasion about what can bring us together.”

All the major parties have agreed to suspend campaigning in the local elections as political life is paused to mark a period of mourning for the Queen’s husband.

Flags are also at half mast around Westminster and the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff which are each holding separate tributes.

The First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford said Prince Philip lived an “exceptional life” while Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described his relationship with the Queen as a “true partnership”.

In the House of Lords, the speaker Lord Fowler said the nation and the Commonwealth had lost one of its greatest figures. Lord Fowler told the upper chamber that Philip's legacy "will live on, as will our sincere gratitude".

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