Royal audience with new prime minister is a momentous event for the King


Before the new prime minister addresses the nation from Downing Street on Friday, he must first make that all-important journey to Buckingham Palace.

Tracked overhead by helicopters from television news stations, the convoy will wind its way through the streets of London before pulling in through the imposing wrought iron gates.

As head of state, it is the King’s duty to appoint the prime minister who will lead His Majesty’s Government, and that first audience will be as equally memorable for the monarch as for his guest.

It will be the first time the King, 75, who is continuing to undergo treatment for cancer, has appointed a prime minister following a general election, a major constitutional duty.

Buckingham Palace courtiers have cleared two slots in the King’s diary; the first at 11am and the second, at midday.

If, as expected, Sir Keir Starmer is elected, Rishi Sunak will be invited to the palace first for a “departure audience” in which he will formally tender his resignation.

The outgoing premier will be invited to bring his spouse and children, should he wish, and will leave the palace privately afterwards.

Then, at midday, Sir Keir will be whisked into the gates to be greeted at the sovereign’s entrance by an equerry and Sir Clive Alderton, the King’s private secretary.

Outgoing premier will not meet his successor

The two visits will be timed with military precision, and there will be no chance of the two politicians running into each other.

And while both will take place in the private Audience Room, they will be distinctly different in tone.

An incoming prime minister is invited to bring their spouse, who is brought in towards the end of the meeting, but not their children.

The audience will last around half an hour, and will be formally recorded in the Court Circular as the “kissing of hands”, although it will more probably feature a brisk handshake.

The historic moment will be recorded by a photographer before the pair get on with constitutional business behind closed doors as the King invites the new prime minister to form a Government.

As with all of their many weekly audiences to come, the meeting will remain private.

However, many premiers have been unable to resist recounting that first memorable encounter.

Sir Tony Blair recalled how he tripped on a rug and “practically fell into the Queen’s hands” when he went to the Palace to be appointed in 1997.

Gordon  Brown talks with Lady Susan Hussey, lady-in-waiting to the late Queen, as he arrives with his wife Sarah at the Palace to be appointed prime minister in June 2007

Gordon Brown talks with Lady Susan Hussey, lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth II, as he arrives with his wife Sarah at the Palace to be appointed prime minister in June 2007 – Fiona Hanson/AFP via Getty Images

Gordon Brown described his first audience with Elizabeth II as “a congenial business-like conversation about the work that lay ahead”, while Margaret Thatcher’s husband Denis noticed that the guards on duty at the Palace saluted as he and the new prime minister left, having not done so when they arrived.

Liz Truss revealed Elizabeth II told her:  “I’ll see you next week” during their first and only official meeting at Balmoral on Sept 6 2022.

Until then, it had been extremely rare for any monarch to appoint a prime minister anywhere other than Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle.

In 1885, Lord Salisbury was summoned to Balmoral by Queen Victoria and asked to form a government. He then returned to London, with Queen Victoria appointing a government a week later at Windsor Castle.

In 1908, Herbert Asquith travelled to Biarritz, France, for an audience with King Edward VII.

But the decision to bid farewell to Boris Johnson and appoint Ms Truss at Balmoral was deemed a necessary concession to the late Queen’s failing health. She died just two days later.

Queen Elizabeth II invited Liz Truss to form a government following her election as Conservative party leader in September 2022 at Balmoral. She died just two days later

Queen Elizabeth II invited Liz Truss to form a government following her election as Conservative party leader in September 2022 at Balmoral. She died just two days later – Jane Barlow/Pool via Reuters/File Photo

On Friday, after meeting the King, the newly elected prime minister will be given a few moments to compose his thoughts and read through his speech.

He will then leave the palace via the Ministers’ Staircase before being driven through the front gates in a ministerial car, headed for Downing Street, barely one mile away.

There waiting for him will be that all-important lectern set up before a bank of cameras to bring his first words as prime minister to a waiting nation.

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