June 3, 2009
Prince Charles to Attend D-Day Ceremonies
By JOHN F. BURNS
LONDON — After a week of controversy over the failure of the French and British governments to include Queen Elizabeth II in the 65th anniversary commemorations of the D-Day landings in Normandy, palace officials announced Tuesday that they had found what amounted to a face-saving solution — Prince Charles would join this weekend’s commemorations in his mother’s stead.
Nobody, at least for the record, was prepared to say whether an intervention by President Obama, who will attend the ceremonies with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, played a part in the announcement. At a White House news conference on Monday, Mr. Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said that the White House was “working with those involved to see that” the queen was invited.
This was widely interpreted as a diplomatic way of saying that the United States had asked Britain and France to rectify what many, at least in Britain, had seen as an insult to the monarch, 83, and her husband, Prince Philip, 87. Much of the blame was laid with Mr. Sarkozy, for having said through aides that France regarded the commemorations as “primarily a Franco-American occasion,” and Britain’s prime minister, Gordon Brown, who arranged to attend the commemorations himself, but never, by his own officials’ acknowledgment, thought to ask if the queen would like to go.
The lack of an invitation for the queen has generated a torrent of criticism in Britain, stoked in part by the fact that the D-Day landings were, overwhelmingly, carried out by American, British and Commonwealth troops. Free French commandos did participate, but theirs was a small force.
British veterans’ leaders vented much of their displeasure at Mr. Brown, a former student radical who has had a reputation in government of squeezing British military budgets, and of having an uncomfortable relationship with British military commanders. The veterans have made it clear that they care little for the idea of Mr. Brown’s stepping into the Normandy ceremonies in the place of the queen and her husband, both of whom served in uniform during World War II. The queen was an army driver, and Prince Philip served in the Royal Navy, participating in sea battles in the Mediterranean.
For the queen and Prince Philip, the poignancy of the weekend commemorations was likely to have been enhanced by the reality that neither can be sure, because of age, of attending the next major D-Day ceremonies in Normandy: for the 70th anniversary, in 2014. They played a major part in past commemorations.
Officials at Clarence House, Prince Charles’s official residence in London, were cryptic in announcing his attendance at the commemorations. The 60-year-old prince served in Britain’s armed forces, commanding a navy ship and qualifying as a jet pilot. But commentators said that the arrangement amounted to a diplomatic finesse by the royal household, signaling that the queen was not ready to travel to Normandy as a last-minute invitee, but was keen, too, to put an end to the controversy over the affair.
Buckingham Palace moved to take some of the heat out of the situation last week by issuing a statement saying that the royal family had “never expressed any anger or frustration” over the issue.
But the statement appeared to lend backhand credence to newspaper reports that the queen was, in fact, furious at her exclusion, by noting pointedly that she would not be in Normandy, “as we have not received an official invitation to any of these events.”
The statement followed urgent discussions between the palace and the prime minister’s office, a relationship that British newspapers say has been cool, if not chilly, during Mr. Brown’s two years at 10 Downing Street.
But even then, Mr. Brown appeared not to be too troubled. After officials in Paris backtracked, saying “the queen is welcome to participate” if she chooses, Mr. Brown followed suit, implying that it was up to the queen to solicit an invitation, not for Mr. Brown to arrange one.
“Should the queen or any other member of the royal family wish to attend, we would of course do everything possible to make that happen,” Mr. Brown said in a statement.