This morning Playbook has revealed details about the plans – codenamed Operation London Bridge – for the sad day when the Queen passes away. But while the outlet's excellent write-up reveals much about the preparations involved for Her Majesty's death, Steerpike noted that one detail about the behind the scenes work was somewhat glossed over: advanced plans for the royal coffin to lie in state at Westminster Hall.
Codenamed ‘Operation Marquee’ – a moniker last used for the Queen Mother’s ceremony in 2002 – the plans have been kept tightly under wraps for decades and will run with military precision, judging by its expenditure. Between 2010 and 2020 some £2.6 million was spent on the project, according to FOI requests – the equivalent of more than £700 a day. This breaks down to £1.58 million spent by the Commons and £1 million by the Lords, excluding VAT.
Such costs are of course merely for planning the logistics of the event which is likely to see hundreds of thousands of people file past the guarded coffin in Westminster Hall to pay their last respects. Expense claims meanwhile show that Black Rod has been keeping a close eye on proceedings with the then incumbent David Leakey paying a visit to an Operation Marquee build at North Weald in 2013. In June 2016 – two days after the celebrations to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday – plans for the events following her death were discussed at a Lords Management board meeting alongside day-to-day issues such as the pay and grading review.
Further details have been suppressed on security grounds, with former Clerk of the parliaments Edward Ollard signing a certificate against their release as ‘disclosure of files relating to the operation would have the effect of revealing the plan itself in whole or in part.’ As Playbook notes, the actual lying in state will be codenamed 'Operation Feather' with the coffin set to lie on a raised box known as a catafalque in the middle of the hall, open to the public for 23 hours per day. Tickets will be issued for VIPs so they can have a time slot.
The Queen Mother’s funeral – a royal ceremonial one – was almost identical to the state one that her daughter will one day receive. In 2002 the Metropolitan police put the price of providing just over 9,000 officers and civilians at £2m while the Ministry of Defence said the provision of 3,000 servicemen and women cost the taxpayer £301,000. Heightened security awareness since then would suggest costs will be even higher and whereas the monarch bears some of the costs for royal ceremonial funerals, state funerals are publicly funded
A spokesman for the House of Commons said: ‘Operation Marquee is one of a number of long- standing projects which requires Parliament to have contingency maintenance arrangements in place. We would not comment any further on the specifics of it.’ Let's hope that the fateful day in question remains many years off.