Ministers and campaigning quietened: how Philip’s death affects politics

Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent
·3-min read

Government machinery quickly spun into action to facilitate arrangements following the death of the Duke of Edinburgh but a period of mourning will also cast a quiet over Westminster.

Ministers will no longer be taking to the airwaves, Government announcements will be pared back and campaigning for the May elections has been halted.

Philip’s death will affect the functioning of politics during a period of mourning.

– Ministers into action

While working in Downing Street, Boris Johnson was informed of the duke’s death on Friday morning before sharing his “great sadness” with the nation during a speech outside No 10.

Buckingham Palace leads funeral arrangements but they will be supported by a huge Government effort.

The Prime Minister chaired an operational ministerial meeting at 4pm for Secretaries of State with a role to play in the co-ordination of arrangements.

Home Secretary Priti Patel and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace were expected to attend because of their roles overseeing security, as were operational policing leads and representatives of the royal households.

Then, at 5pm, Mr Johnson held a Cabinet meeting for ministers to offer their tributes and share their memories of meeting the duke.

According to Downing Street, the Prime Minister concluded by telling his ministers that “in the coming days the entire country would have a chance to reflect on his life, work and legacy”.

– An unusual quiet

Flags fly at half mast outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh
Flags fly at half mast outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh (Andrew Milligan/PA)

A period of mourning began, with the duke’s funeral expected to take place at Windsor Castle’s St George’s Chapel eight days after his death.

Ministers were told their usual broadcast rounds had been cancelled, while many planned announcements and visits had been shelved for the time being.

This will effectively bring forward from Thursday the pre-election “period of sensitivity”, or “purdah”, during which the use of public resources and the activities of civil servants and ministers are limited.

The quiet will be reflected in the flying of flags at half mast on UK Government buildings until the morning after his funeral.

– Coronavirus continues

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But the mourning takes place during a pandemic and, while no Downing Street press conferences were expected, urgent matters of public health will be communicated if necessary.

The planned easing of England’s lockdown will go ahead on Monday as planned.

However, Mr Johnson was understood to have postponed his celebratory pint to mark the reopening of pub gardens.

One message communicated from the Government was a plea for the grieving public not to head to royal residences to mark their respects amid concerns over mass gatherings.

“We are supporting the Royal Household in asking that floral tributes should not be laid at Royal Residences at this time,” a Cabinet Office spokesman added.

– Campaigning dampened

After learning of Philip’s death, Mr Johnson, the Conservative leader, and Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer spoke to each other and agreed to suspend campaigning for the May 6 elections.

All main political parties agreed to pause their campaigns ahead of the votes covering council and mayoral positions in England, the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Parliament.

– Tributes to be paid

But politicians will continue to mark the duke’s legacy, with the Prime Minister to lead tributes in Parliament on Monday afternoon.

The Commons was being recalled from its Easter break a day early so MPs can pay their respects from the chamber, while peers will also voice their condolences.

Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle was among those Mr Johnson spoke to on Monday, while Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg was expected in the operational ministerial meeting regarding an update to Parliament.