The leaking of details of the Queen’s visit to Northern Ireland may have been the real reason her trip to mark 100 years since the partition of Ireland was cancelled, experts suggested today.
The official reason for the Monarch’s eleventh-hour change of plans was that she had caught a seasonal cold and had been told to rest for the ‘next few days’.
However, sources now believe that the health scare may have been something of a ‘smokescreen’ with the centenary event becoming a ‘political hot potato’ after several politicians turned down invitations and details of the Queen’s itinerary were leaked.
Four weeks ago, it was reported that Irish President Michael D. Higgins had turned down an invite, as did politicians for the Sinn Fein party.
Meanwhile, the Irish Times previewed the Queen’s visit at the end of September and a leading security expert pointed out that details of the trip had been widely reported in Belfast. He said that revealing where the Queen would be ‘was as dangerous as it gets’.
In the past, details of Royal visits to Northern Ireland were kept under wraps until the last moment. Off-record briefings would be given to the media on condition that the news would be embargoed until the visit was underway.
However, others questioned whether the absence of certain figures had turned the Queen’s potential visit into a political statement.
The royal family is supposed to be politically neutral and with President Higgins’ withdrawal sparking fury from Unionists, one royal expert suggested the Queen was left in an awkward position.
The Queen’s ex-Press Secretary and royal author Dickie Arbiter said the service in Northern Ireland had become a ‘political hot potato’ and questioned whether it had been appropriate for her to attend following boycotts by the Irish President and Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein politicians.
He told MailOnline: ‘Maybe those who were organising it took their eye off the ball as it was a political hot potato. Should the queen be attending that, well that’s a political decision and something that Downing Street should have recognised rather than Palace officials. Maybe someone in government didn’t see what was actually coming up for its full potential.’
There was also confusion today over the last-minute nature of the trip’s cancellation, especially as President Higgins’ invite rejection and the leaking of the Queen’s visit took place several weeks ago.
The Queen at a reception for the Global Investment Conference at Windsor Castle on Tuesday
Queen Elizabeth II greets Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the Windsor Castle event on Tuesday
The trip also came against a backdrop of heightened security coming just five days after MP Sir David Amess was stabbed to death in a suspected terror attack.
One former minister told MailOnline: ‘I wonder whether it’s security being extra cautious. But in Her Majesty’s case, it is a bit of a trek… Security is possible, however Her Majesty is quite elderly.’
The Tory MP said that while Sinn Fein had taken a warm attitude towards the Queen over recent years, ‘you have got some renegades’. ‘Sinn Fein would have been welcoming but you have got breakaway factions as well.’
They added: ‘It is bad timing. The people hadn’t worked out that COP is round the corner. It is gruelling. It is gruelling even for the healthy because these commitments are quite demanding.
‘Her people might have said you need to be fresh and robust for the COP summit.’
However, Mr Arbiter told MailOnline that he did not doubt the statement about the Queen being ordered by doctors to take a few days’ rest.
‘Buckingham Palace would not have put out a statement yesterday saying that she’d been advised by doctors to rest up.
‘Because if you’re going to tell a porky, like that, it’s going to come back and slap you in the face.’
He added: ‘So I think genuinely, it was fatigue. Don’t forget, she’s a 95-year-old woman and all the many engagements she’s undertaken over the last couple of weeks in London and Edinburgh.’
Shortly after the announcement that Her Majesty had a cold, she was spotted driving around her Windsor estate and walking her Corgis.
Today a Buckingham Palace spokesperson insisted: ‘We wouldn’t comment on security matters. However, you will see from the advisory released yesterday that Her Majesty reluctantly accepted medical advice to rest for the next few days.’
Details of her visit were reported in the Belfast Telegraph and the Sunday Independent over the weekend. This came after the visit was previewed in the Irish Times four weeks ago.
Although the Queen didn’t visit, Boris Johnson attending a church service to mark the centenary.
The Prime Minister said it was ‘very moving’ to attend a cross-community church service in Armagh to mark the centenary of the formation of Northern Ireland.
Speaking at Crumlin Integrated Primary School in Co Antrim, Boris Johnson said: ‘It has been very moving to be here today and see the way in which people from very different perspectives have come together to celebrate what is an incredible place, an incredible part of the country which has got an amazing future.
‘That was the message I took from the service this morning.’
He added: ‘I am a passionate unionist and, of course, I believe the future is within the United Kingdom.’
Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland Francis John McDowell (left) and Archbishop of Armagh and the Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin during a service to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh
President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Rev Dr Sahr Yambasu speaking a service to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland at St Patrick’s Cathedral
Irish minister for foreign affairs, Simon Coveney (left) and British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson (centre) chat with the clergy following a service of ‘Reflection & Hope’ to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland at Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedra
An Order of Service is displayed as Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives to attend a service to mark the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis (left) and Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a service to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland at St Patrick’s Cathedral
People walk before Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives to attend a service to mark the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland after the partition of Ireland
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (centre) with children from Armstrong Primary School after a service to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh
Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets Archbishop Eamon Martin, Primate of All Ireland at St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh
Though security protocols have been somewhat relaxed in recent years, the level of reporting over the Queen’s planned visit was unusually high, highlighting a perceived snub by the Irish President Michael D Higgins who announced he was not going to attend the ceremony.
That sparked a political row as DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said President Higgins’ decision had ‘set back north-south relations’ in Ireland.
‘The rejection of this event by the Irish head of state signals to unionists that the presidential office does not respect Northern Ireland as an entity and has little or no interest in a shared future with unionism,’ Sir Jeffrey said last month.
One royal expert told MailOnline that London-based reporters were in place for the Queen’s arrival in Belfast yesterday when her trip was abruptly cancelled.
‘Even before the trip, royal sources were citing the Northern Ireland security protocols and refusing to confirm the details,’ said the source.
‘But at the same time, her itinerary was known by everyone in Ireland. It’s very odd that on the very day the Queen is said to be told to rest under doctor’s orders that she’s seen out and about driving and with her dogs.
Irish minister for foreign affairs, Simon Coveney and British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson chat with the clergy following a service of ‘Reflection & Hope’ to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland at Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral
First Minister of Northern Ireland, Paul Givan (left) and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis attending a service to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland
(left to right) Archbishop of Armagh and the Primate of All Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin, President of the Irish Council of Churches Dr Ivan Patterson and General Assembly Moderator Rev David Bruce during a service to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland
The Lord-Lieutenant of County Down inspects a guard of honour by the Hillsborough Fort Guard before a ceremony at Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland yesterday
‘Maybe she did wake up with a head cold, but given the security concerns and the political hot potato the Armagh service had become, perhaps that cold was very well timed?’
Terrorism expert Chris Phillips, ex-head of the government’s National Counter Terrorism Security Office, said it was never helpful to have the Royals’ plans broadcast in advance in Northern Ireland. ‘Of course, the situation there is not like it was 20 years ago, but when you see it reported that the Queen’s going to be at a certain place on a certain day, that’s as dangerous as it gets.
‘Normally the media would impose a news blackout on the event until the Royal in question was actually in place.
‘Now the news leaking out might not be a reason in itself to call off a visit, but it would certainly factor in. Lots of other things have to be taken into account as well, but it’s never helpful. ‘
One of the Northern Ireland dignitaries attending today’s service at St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral told MailOnline: ‘The security around the Cathedral and on the roads from Belfast today is about as tight as I’ve ever seen.’
Queen, 95, will NOT step back from royal duties but will ‘pace’ her engagements and it’s ‘patronising’ to suggest she should retire, Her Majesty’s former press secretary Dickie Arbiter claims
Royal commentator Dickie Arbiter has said the Queen will not step down, despite concerns over her health after she cancelled a trip to Northern Ireland this week following medical advice to rest for the next few days.
Instead, Mr Arbiter, 81, suggested the Queen would ask officials to ‘pace’ her engagements as she continues her duties as sovereign.
Speaking on ITV today, Mr Arbiter said: ‘The Queen made her feelings very crystal clear when she told the ‘Oldie awards’ to naff off.
‘Remembrance Day is coming up and is sacred in her diary. To suggest she’ll step back is patronising and fighting fire – the Queen will instead ask her officials to pace her engagements more.’
Explaining why the Queen would not step down, Mr Arbiter continued: ‘During her coronation she made a vow in the eyes of god, and you can’t compare that promise to the pope retiring.
‘The Queen has had a very strenuous few days ago, which is why doctors probably advised her to cancel her upcoming trip. It’s a lot to ask of anyone any age – even when she’s not at engagements the monarch has mounds of paperwork to go through.’
He concluded: ‘The officials at Buckingham Palace will be looking very carefully to pace her engagements. There’s only so much Charles, William and Kate can do.’
Dickie, 81, suggested the Queen would ask officials to ‘pace’ her engagements as she continues her duties as sovereign.
However, royal biographer Angela Levin argued that the Queen is battling feelings of guilt, and should be encouraged to step down.
She said: ‘The Queen feels very guilty as she made a promise at 21 that she’ll be Queen until she dies, but the Pope made the same vows and has since retired.
‘Things have changed since the royal made that promise and people live longer nowadays.
Angela Levin argued that the Queen is battling feelings of guilt, and should be encouraged to step down
‘The Queen is incredibly alert but it’s too much for her physically – at the moment it’s a fight between mind and body – she should be encouraged to step back slowly.’
Arguing that the Queen should retire after the Platinum Jubilee in June, which marks 70 years on the throne, Ms Levin added: ‘The Queen needs to look after herself and make allowances.
‘Prince Philip said the same thing when he retired and allowed himself a break. We should all be encouraging the Queen to step back and enjoy the rest of her life.’