I saw first-hand the important role His Majesty plays in representing Britain overseas
2011 (l-r) Alistair Burt and the then-Prince of Wales with the King of Morocco Mohammed VI | Alamy
The UK will be well served abroad by this knowledgeable and thoughtful monarch
Images of the Royal Family abroad are very powerful. We get some sense of how the monarchy is perceived around the world from viewing the crowds which have greeted them in so many places, and understanding the impact made from the sensitive and historic nature of some of those visits, such as those of Her late Majesty to Germany and Ireland.
The occasions may be grand, from the formal dinners and receptions to the motorcades and processions. But behind these are the quieter moments, where often relationships are sealed, and the nation’s interests advanced.
Somewhere in the background of such visits you will find those who represent the United Kingdom in a different capacity: an ambassador, some diplomats, and, from time to time, a politician. His Majesty the King, as Prince of Wales, was kind enough to frequently invite the appropriate foreign and commonwealth minister to accompany him for part of his journeys abroad, and I had this privilege on three occasions in the Middle East and North Africa.
The first thing you notice is his diligence. In any meeting with his counterparts, at which ministers will be present, it will be expected that matters concerning the relationships between the nations will be on the agenda and a subject for discussion. The Prince of Wales was always good enough to give me private time during the visit, or before, to discuss what was going on, not just in the particular state he was visiting, but throughout the region. Bearing in mind my time in office was unusually heavy with the events surrounding political upheaval across the Arab world from 2011 onwards, you can be sure that briefing was extensive and detailed. HRH was always absolutely up to speed, and his questions were incisive and informed.
Away from the official stuff, the humour and warmth of His Majesty and the Queen were very much in evidence in private
Meetings between those at such high level are exceptionally hierarchical. There is often a lot to absorb and handle with delicacy, hence the weighty briefings, and the importance of having a principal who knows the stuff. You can be very sure that His Majesty did, and does. The most important guest sits next to the most important host, and the conversation is conducted between them, unless another is invited to join in. I have been to a number where most guests sit mute and are not involved for the duration: often lengthy!
The Prince of Wales endeared himself to this minister by not being like that at all. I distinctly recall occasions, when asked about an issue by his host, he would turn to me and say: “I do think this is Mr Burt’s area, and I am sure he would like to address this.” I know I was not alone in being endorsed in such a manner. For a minister this is of immense importance, as status and competence with a host state are conveyed immediately by being asked to contribute, which would then have a lasting impact on the way one was subsequently regarded, thus enhancing the whole diplomatic team.
Away from the official stuff, the humour and warmth of His Majesty and the Queen were very much in evidence in private and in generous amounts of time given over to engaging with all those who support the nation overseas. The UK will be well served abroad by this knowledgeable and thoughtful monarch, and accompanying ministers are in for a treat!
Alistair Burt is Pro-chancellor, Lancaster University and former foreign office minister
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