Japan state visit to UK 'under threat' as King Charles plans to cancel any royal events that could 'divert or distract' from the election campaign – as expert claims monarch is 'emphasising his role above party politics'

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King Charles wanted to emphasise his role above party politics by confirming he will postpone engagements ‘which may appear to divert attention or distract from the election campaign’, an expert claimed today amid doubts over Japan’s state visit.

Buckingham Palace’s announcement ahead of the General Election on July 4 confirms the normal procedure for senior royals not to undertake any public duties that could divert attention from campaigning or appear to favour one political party.

But royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams said the ‘wording seems ambiguous and what “diverts” and “distracts” individuals is surely subjective’. He also asked whether it was ‘necessary to issue a statement which can be interpreted in different ways’.

Royal aides said yesterday that King Charles and Queen Camilla sent their ‘sincere apologies’ to those affected, after the monarch agreed to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s request to dissolve Parliament for an election – for the first time in his reign.

The King and Queen’s D-Day 80th anniversary appearances in Portsmouth and Normandy in June are set to go ahead as scheduled, but the surprise revelation of a summer election has disrupted other events in the carefully planned royal diary.

Charles’s public engagements for the rest of this week are now off, while doubts have emerged over the Emperor and Empress of Japan’s state visit due in late June.

The Foreign Office will make a final decision on the trip, four years after it was also axed in 2020 due to the pandemic when Queen Elizabeth II was still on the throne.

There is precedent for such a cancellation, with a state visit by Spain’s King Felipe postponed to July 2017 because of a general election in the UK – after the trip had already been delayed in 2016 until June 2017 due to a political crisis in his country.

The King was due to make a not-yet publicly announced event in London today, then visit Crewe tomorrow to tour a Bentley factory and a community centre which supports people struggling financially – but these engagements have been shelved.

How election will affect King’s engagements 

CANCELLED

  • Unannounced, London (May 23)
  • Bentley factory, Crewe (May 24)

GOING AHEAD

  • D-Day event, Portsmouth (June 5)
  • D-Day event, Normandy (June 6)

LIKELY TO GO AHEAD

  • Trooping the Colour, London (June 15)
  • Garter Service, Windsor (June 17)
  • Royal Ascot (June 18-22)
  • Palace of Holyroodhouse Garden Party, Edinburgh (July 2)

UNCONFIRMED

  • State Visit to Japan (‘late June’)
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Royal aides are said to have thought it was prudent to postpone the trips in order not to immediately detract from the General Election announcement.

However, sources said the move was not a blanket approach to future events, and engagements will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis – with events such as Royal Ascot, Trooping the Colour and the Garter Service over the coming weeks.

Mr Fitzwilliams told MailOnline today: ‘It is a pivotal part of our unwritten constitution that the Royal Family are never involved in party politics.

‘When King Charles was Prince of Wales there were fears, which have since proved unfounded, that he might become or attempt to become an activist King.

‘The statement put out by Buckingham Palace after the Prime Minister called a General Election, states that the royal family has ‘postponed engagements which may appear to divert attention or distract from the election campaign’.

‘The wording seems ambiguous and what ‘diverts’ and ‘distracts’ individuals is surely subjective. The magnificent spectacle of Trooping the Colour followed by the iconic balcony appearance is surely intended to do both, with the Mall packed with enthusiastic onlookers. What purpose would it serve if it were axed?’

There is no confirmation as to whether the Japanese state visit will still happen.

Key elements of a state visit include a ceremonial welcome by the armed forces and a grand banquet for guests including senior royals, politicians and dignitaries. 

YESTERDAY -- King Charles III hosted the winners of The Prince's Trust awards at Buckingham Palace in London and met TV's Declan Donnelly in an engagement that went ahead as planned

YESTERDAY — King Charles III hosted the winners of The Prince’s Trust awards at Buckingham Palace in London and met TV’s Declan Donnelly in an engagement that went ahead as planned

MONDAY -- King Charles III also visited the Chelsea Flower Show in London earlier this week

MONDAY — King Charles III also visited the Chelsea Flower Show in London earlier this week 

And Mr Fitzwilliams said the visit ‘probably doesn’t interest the electorate at all, but seems likely to be cancelled because it clearly has political implications, trade deals may follow and there would normally be meetings with leaders of political parties’.

What is the King’s involvement in the General Election?

Under the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022, which repealed the Fixed Terms Parliament Act 2011, the Prime Minister can seek the monarch’s permission to dissolve parliament and call a general election at a time of his choosing.

The date of the dissolution is set by a royal proclamation issued by the King, on the advice of his prime minister, and timed to allow for the polling day to occur on Mr Sunak’s chosen date.

The 2022 Act restored the practice whereby the monarch dissolves parliament at the request of the PM, without the need for a parliamentary vote on plans for an election.

There is no fixed number of days that have to take place between the announcement of an election and dissolution.

It is typically a few days later to allow the Commons and Lords to finish any urgent business.

In previous times prior to 2011, the late Queen’s agreement to dissolve parliament meant she had to hold a meeting of the Privy Council to approve a royal proclamation which was signed and affixed with the Great Seal of the Realm.

The date of the dissolution of parliament is laid down in statute, as 25 working days, not counting weekends or any bank holidays that fall within this period, before the proposed polling day.

For a July 4 election, this is May 30.

Dissolution is the official term for the end of a parliament.

The day after the General Election, it will be the King’s duty to invite the leader of the party that won the most seats in the House of Commons to become prime minister and to form a government – one of the few remaining personal prerogatives of the sovereign.

It was one of the Queen’s last duties, just two days before she died, when she appointed Liz Truss as prime minister, at Balmoral Castle.

It was the first time the Queen, who had mobility issues, carried out the key duty at her Scottish retreat rather than at Buckingham Palace.

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Although Charles is still undergoing cancer treatment, the 75-year-old King had a packed diary of engagements planned in the coming weeks after being given the go-ahead by doctors.

But the unusual July election date means the King’s official birthday – Trooping the Colour on June 15 – falls in the run-up to the vote. At this stage, it is expected that the celebrations and famous balcony appearance will still take place.

The date is also traditionally used to release the King’s Birthday Honours, coordinated by the Cabinet Office.

Trooping the Colour was only cancelled once in the whole of Queen Elizabeth II’s 70-year reign before the pandemic – as a result of a national train strike in 1955.

Mr Fitzwilliams continued: ‘Clearly the 80th anniversary of D-Day commemoration events are above politics and must go ahead.

‘Royal engagements, which by their nature favour an industry, a charity or a particular part of the country would probably need to be cancelled during the campaign.

‘So the intended visit to the Bentley factory in Crewe by King Charles would not now be expected to take place and has been cancelled.

‘The Garter Ceremony at Windsor is a most impressive affair which is not televised, but for those fortunate enough to attend it, it resembles a medieval tableaux come to life. This must surely to go ahead.

‘The vast crowd which attends Royal Ascot, the highlight of the social season, will be very disappointed indeed if the royal procession which opens each day’s racing, were to be cancelled.

‘It does however ‘divert and ‘detract’ by its very nature, since it was begun by George IV in 1825. You could argue that, during an election campaign, footage of it would be of interest, especially for racing enthusiasts. It is wonderfully colourful and gives this event a unique cachet.’

Looking further ahead to the Garden Party at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh on July 2, Mr Fitzwilliams said the guest list ‘would obviously involve choosing some individuals rather than others’.

He added: ‘Should it therefore go ahead, especially given the complex political situation north of the border?’

Yesterday, Buckingham Palace said in its statement: ‘Following the Prime Minister’s statement this afternoon calling a General Election, the royal family will, in accordance with normal procedure, postpone engagements that may appear to divert attention or distract from the election campaign.

‘Their Majesties send their sincere apologies to any of those who may be affected as a result.’

Analysing this, Mr Fitzwilliams said today: ‘This statement was presumably meant to emphasise the King’s role which is above party politics.

King Charles III with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Buckingham Palace in London on February 21, which was their first in-person audience since the monarch’s diagnosis with cancer

‘The Palace will undoubtedly clarify what it means regarding all forthcoming events during this, the busiest period in the royal calendar. Was it, however, necessary to issue a statement which can be interpreted in different ways?

ANALYSIS: What purpose would it serve if Trooping the Colour were axed?

By RICHARD FITZWILLIAMS 

It is a pivotal part of our unwritten constitution that the Royal Family are never involved in party politics.

When King Charles was Prince of Wales there were fears, which have since proved unfounded, that he might become or attempt to become an activist King.

The statement put out by Buckingham Palace after the Prime Minister called a General Election, states that the royal family has ‘postponed engagements which may appear to divert attention or distract from the election campaign’.

The wording seems ambiguous and what ‘diverts’ and ‘distracts’ individuals is surely subjective. The magnificent spectacle of Trooping the Colour followed by the iconic balcony appearance is surely intended to do both, with the Mall packed with enthusiastic onlookers. What purpose would it serve if it were axed?

The state visit of the Emperor and Empress of Japan probably doesn’t interest the electorate at all, but seems likely to be cancelled because it clearly has political implications, trade deals may follow and there would normally be meetings with leaders of political parties.

Clearly the 80th anniversary of D-Day commemoration events are above politics and must go ahead.

Royal engagements, which by their nature favour an industry, a charity or a particular part of the country would probably need to be cancelled during the campaign.

So the intended visit to the Bentley factory in Crewe by King Charles would not now be expected to take place and has been cancelled.

The Garter Ceremony at Windsor is a most impressive affair which is not televised, but for those fortunate enough to attend it, it resembles a medieval tableaux come to life. This must surely to go ahead.

The vast crowd which attends Royal Ascot, the highlight of the social season, will be very disappointed indeed if the royal procession which opens each day’s racing, were to be cancelled.

It does however ‘divert and ‘detract’ by its very nature, since it was begun by George IV in 1825. You could argue that, during an election campaign, footage of it would be of interest, especially for racing enthusiasts. It is wonderfully colourful and gives this event a unique cachet.

What then, of the Garden Party at the Palace of Holyroodhouse on July 2? The guest list would obviously involve choosing some individuals rather than others. Should it therefore go ahead, especially given the complex political situation north of the border?

This statement was presumably meant to emphasise the King’s role which is above party politics.

The Palace will undoubtedly clarify what it means regarding all forthcoming events during this, the busiest period in the royal calendar. Was it, however, necessary to issue a statement which can be interpreted in different ways?

After all, the presence of King Charles, who has recently returned to royal engagements despite battling cancer, is a tonic which, by its nature, ‘diverts’ and ‘distracts’.

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‘After all, the presence of King Charles, who has recently returned to royal engagements despite battling cancer, is a tonic which, by its nature, ‘diverts’ and ‘distracts’.’

Yesterday evening, heir to the throne Prince William also pulled out of a day of previously unannounced engagements for today, after Kensington Palace received updated guidance from Buckingham Palace.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution garden party at Buckingham Palace today, marking the 200th anniversary of the lifesaving charity, was still going ahead, with thousands of guests expected to attend.

Charles, who has only just returned to public-facing duties after his cancer diagnosis, and Camilla are not, and never were, due to attend the outdoor gathering.

The sovereign does not vote and is a constitutional monarch who must remain politically neutral. Charles could now be set for his third prime minister.

His first was Liz Truss – but her stint in charge was the shortest in British history – and the King welcomed Mr Sunak as his second PM just six weeks after acceding to the throne.

Mr Sunak revealed he spoke with King earlier yesterday to inform him of his decision and the King had agreed to the request for the dissolution of Parliament.

The Palace said Charles met Mr Sunak in person at the royal residence in London yesterday afternoon, following Charles’ Prince’s Trust Awards engagement.

They spent around 15 minutes together in the King’s private audience room, in place of their normal weekly meeting yesterday evening.

The King, who is still undergoing treatment for cancer, has carried out a flurry of engagements since restarting public appearances in April and now has a number of duties ahead of him after the Prime Minister announced his plan for the country to go to the polls.

Speaking at Downing Street yesterday, Mr Sunak said: ‘Earlier today I spoke with His Majesty the King to request the dissolution of Parliament.

‘The King has granted this request and we will have a General Election on July 4.’

The King was hosting the winners of The Prince’s Trust awards at Buckingham Palace yesterday afternoon, where TV star Declan Donnelly joked that his celebrity partner Anthony McPartlin was missing from the reception because he was breastfeeding his newborn baby.

The engagement went ahead as planned, without any changes to timings, finishing at around 3.15pm.

The King was also due to hold a Privy Council meeting afterwards, but Buckingham Palace has yet to confirm whether this went ahead.

In a statement, Downing Street said: ‘The Prime Minister has today asked His Majesty The King to proclaim the Dissolution of Parliament. His Majesty has been graciously pleased to signify that he will comply with this request.

‘Parliament will be prorogued on Friday 24 May. Dissolution will take place on Thursday 30 May. The General Election will take place on Thursday 4 July.

‘The new Parliament will be summoned to meet on Tuesday 9 July, when the first business will be the election of the Speaker and the swearing-in of members, and the State Opening will be on Wednesday 17 July.’

Meanwhile, it was reported today the polls suggest Buckingham Palace will end up in a Labour constituency following the General Election.

The Conservatives have held the Cities of London and Westminster seat since it was created in 1950, with Nickie Aiken winning in 2019 with a majority of 3,953.

But the flagship Conservative town hall was taken by Labour in the local elections two years ago.

Professor Tony Travers, of the London School of Economics, told the Evening Standard: ‘Buckingham Palace, the City and the Houses of Parliament could easily end up in a Labour constituency.’