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Japan’s UK state visit to go ahead despite election

In World
June 04, 2024

The state visit to the UK by the emperor and empress of Japan will go ahead later this month, says Buckingham Palace.

There had been speculation it would be postponed because of the general election on 4 July.

The visit, from 25 to 27 June, will include traditional highlights such as a state banquet hosted by the King and a carriage parade along the Mall.

It will be the first state visit in modern times to take place during an election campaign.

King Charles

King Charles will host the visit a week before the general election [PA Media]

State visits take place on the advice of the government, with the King hosting events as head of state.

Such diplomatic showcases usually involve senior politicians, prompting questions about whether it would be delayed to avoid overlapping with political campaigning, but Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako‘s visit is going ahead.

Buckingham Palace indicated the visit would be “adapted” because of the general election, but no specific changes have been revealed.

The state banquet is a centrepiece of such visits, with speeches and, in recent times, greetings from the King in the language of the visiting dignitaries.

The prime minister, foreign secretary and leader of the opposition usually attend – although the visit is now in the middle of the election campaign.

The state banquet is on 25 June and the BBC’s head-to-head debate between Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer is on 26 June in Nottingham.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said the attendance of ministers at state visit events was not yet confirmed.

The last time there was a potential clash between an election and a state visit, in 2017, the visit by the Spanish king was rearranged.

This will be the first Japanese state visit to the UK since 1998, with a visit planned for 2020 cancelled because of the Covid pandemic.

Such state visits are a “soft power” mix of pageantry and international politics.

The Japanese royal couple, representing an important trade and defence partner, can expect the red-carpet treatment.

There will be a ceremonial welcome at Horse Guards Parade, with a guard of honour, and then a carriage procession along the Mall to Buckingham Palace.

During their time in the UK, the Japanese emperor royals will visit the Francis Crick Institute, a Young Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition about Japan and the world’s largest collection of wild plant seeds at Kew Gardens.

There will be a visit to St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, to lay a wreath at the burial place of the late Queen Elizabeth II.

Both Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako were students at University of Oxford and they will make visits to the colleges where they studied.

State visit parade up The Mall

State visits usually include a ceremonial carriage procession along The Mall [Getty Images]

While the Japanese state visit goes ahead, the general election has prompted other changes to the King’s diary, in case engagements were a “distraction” from the election.

That included postponing a trip to a project in Crewe which supported families in poverty, including providing food and shoes.

There have been questions about the timing of the King’s meeting with the incoming prime minister after the election.

The King would traditionally spend a week in Scotland, known as “Royal Week” or “Holyrood Week”, at the end of June and the beginning of July.

If this clashes with the result of the 4 July election, it could mean the King having to travel back to Buckingham Palace or else the newly elected prime minister going to Scotland.

When the new government is formed, the King will have a prominent part in the State Opening of Parliament on 17 July.

It will be his biggest constitutional role since his cancer diagnosis.

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