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The Queen has died, now what?

Ten days of mourning, a new king, and no bank holiday – here’s what you need to know following the death of Queen Elizabeth II

Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom, and the second-longest reigning monarch of all time, has died at the age of 96. According to an official announcement on the royal family’s social media account: “The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon. The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow.

As laid out in royal protocol – detailed by the Guardian in an in-depth investigation back in 2017 – the Queen’s death triggers a series of intricate plans lumped under the codename “London Bridge”. New prime minister Liz Truss will have been the first to be informed of her passing, with civil servants reciting the words “London Bridge is down” over secure phone lines. Other government officials will then have been informed of the news before it reached the general public, who spent hours speculating on social media as the royal family made hasty trips to Scotland, rolling news provided endless coverage of the gates of the Balmoral estate, and BBC presenters changed into black ties.

Because the Queen died in Balmoral, it actually triggers a series of events known as “Operation Unicorn”. This sees the immediate suspension of business in the Scottish Parliament, in order to prepare for a state funeral, while the Queen’s body is transported to lie at rest in her smallest palace, at Edinburgh’s Holyroodhouse, followed by St Giles’ Cathedral. After two days – which are expected to see people travel to Scotland from across the world – the Queen’s body will be transported back to London on the Royal Train, to return to the throne room in Buckingham Palace.

All of that, however, is just a small part of the process that follows the death of Elizabeth II. Unsurprisingly, her death will also reverberate out across the country, in the form of mourning, administrative changes, and bizarre and complex rituals. Below, we’ve gathered some of the most important (and weirdest) things that are about to take place, now that the flags are officially flying at half-mast.

NO BANK HOLIDAY

To answer the first question on many peoples’ minds: no, we aren’t getting a bank holiday on the day of the Queen’s funeral. Why? Because that’s what the prime minister and the monarch agreed, according to documents shared in 2021. Instead, we get a “Day of National Mourning”.

WHAT’S A DAY OF NATIONAL MOURNING?

The Day of National Mourning effectively functions like a bank holiday with a different name, but the government doesn’t actually plan to order employers to give workers a day off. If the funeral falls on a weekend (or if it had landed on an existing bank holiday) we also wouldn’t receive an extra day off.

Nevertheless, it’s expected that hundreds of thousands of people will travel to London to witness the Queen’s funeral – which is scheduled to be held in ten days – and institutions such as the stock exchange will shut their doors. As on other commemorative days, we’ll also have two minutes silence at 11am, when the coffin reaches the doors of Westminster Abbey.

OPERATION FEATHER

Before the funeral, the Queen is set to lie in state at the Palace of Westminster for three days – a process codenamed “Feather” – beginning with the sixth day of “London Bridge”. Her coffin will be available for public viewing 23 hours per day, if that’s your kind of thing. Special tickets will also be issued to selected “VIPs”.

This period will also be an intense one for government departments involved in the planning of the funeral. Apparently, they think they have the resources to handle it, but there are some significant anxieties nonetheless. These anxieties include figuring out how to deal with the overcrowding of transport up and down the country, and most importantly within the capital, as well as security arrangements. Then, thanks to COVID, there’s the added possibility of the Queen’s funeral turning into a super spreader event.

SOCIAL MEDIA BLACKOUT

Obviously, there’s a precedent for most operations related to the death of a British monarch, given the country’s long history with the institution. One thing that has changed, however, is the fact that the royal family now has a social media policy that tells them what to do now that the Queen is dead.

Following her death, the royal family’s website was changed to a black holding page with a short statement. The government website and all government social media pages similarly display a black banner. Non-urgent content won’t be published, and retweets will also be banned unless they’re officially given the go-ahead by the government’s head of communications.

WE HAVE A KING NOW

Prince Charles will be officially declared the new sovereign – i.e. King Charles – tomorrow morning. The prime minister and senior government figures will attend the proclamation at St. James’ Palace. According to protocol, all other parliamentary business will be suspended for ten days. 

It’s difficult to tell what other changes Elizabeth II’s death and Charles’ accession to the throne will bring about, other than the fact that new currency will be printed with the new king’s portrait, and currency bearing the Queen will be slowly phased out. If he fancies it, Prince Charles will also be allowed to pick a new name for his rule – these often pay homage to former monarchs. However, he’s largely expected to keep his name and become Charles III, despite some unfortunate echoes of the English Civil Wars.