Breaking news. Flags are flying at half-staff. The world mourns the death of a beloved monarch. Queen Elizabeth II has passed peacefully in her Balmoral Castle in Scotland. How would this affect the economy? What will this mean for the future of the Commonwealth? And what does Operation London Bridge have to do with this?
Since 1952, the United Kingdom has lived under the rule of Queen Elizabeth II. That makes her the longest-reigning monarch in British history. Multiple generations have never known life with a different head of state. In the event of her passing, there is a well-established line of succession. The Queen’s oldest son Charles, Prince of Wales, will inherit the throne.
Will Prince Charles have the support of the British public? Could the end of the Queen’s reign mark the end of the British royal family? For years, information about what would happen when the Queen dies was kept under very tight cover. But these plans are no longer secret. On the day of this traumatic event, Operation London Bridge would begin.
A codename like this is not unique. When the Queen’s father, King George VI, passed away, the plan was codenamed Hyde Park Corner. Operation London Bridge lays out in exact detail what to do from the moment of her death through 12 days of national mourning. First, her private secretary would inform the current Prime Minister.
Civil servants would say “London Bridge is down” on secure lines. The news of her passing would be shared with the other 15 governments of which she is the head of state, and the 36 Commonwealth nations for whom she has served as a symbolic figurehead. A footman in mourning clothes would place a notice on the gates of Buckingham Palace informing the public of the news.
All staff of the royal family would wear a black armband on their left arms. This band must measure 8.25 cm (3.25 in). From there, RATS, the radio alert transmission system, would be activated. This cold-war era alarm system was designed to withstand attacks on the nation’s infrastructure. Television coverage would begin.
The media have their own nickname for this situation. Mrs. Robinson. All the main channels would pull their regular programming, and presenters would be wearing black. But with social media, there’s a good chance you would learn it there first. News of the Queen’s passing would quickly pop up everywhere. It could sound morbid, but the media has days of coverage planned and content, including obituaries, ready to go.
If you happened to be on a plane at this moment, you’d hear the news from your pilot. You wouldn’t be able to watch any late-night comedy shows. They wouldn’t run until after the Queen’s funeral. The Queen’s body would remain at Buckingham Palace for 10 days. The family would spend time together. But for the new ruler, there wouldn’t be much time for mourning.
The day after the Queen’s death at 11 a.m., Prince Charles would be proclaimed king. On the 10th day, officials from all around the world would attend the Queen’s funeral at Westminster Abbey. This would be a massive day of mourning, and hundreds of thousands of people would come to pay respects. Even the British stock market would remain closed this day. A ceremonial decision that could cost the economy billions of pounds.
Of course, this plan accounts for what happens if the Queen passes away in London. But what if she happens to pass away abroad? There is a jet from the Royal Air Force always ready to respond. It would carry the “first call coffin” to bring the Queen’s body back to London. After nearly 70 years in power, life under a new monarch could certainly lead to changes around the Commonwealth.
Several nations could decide to finally break their ties to Britain and become full republics. The monarchs could even be replaced with heads of state elected on a rotating basis. But the plans for Operation London Bridge are as elaborate, detailed and controlled as the life of the Royal Family. Nothing is left to chance. And that makes it seem as though the future of the monarchy remains strong.
- “The Accession Council – Privy Council”. 2022. privycouncil.independent.gov.uk.
- “What To Expect When Queen Elizabeth II Dies”. 2022. britishheritage.com.
- “Royal Family Tree And Line Of Succession”. 2022. bbc.com.
- “‘London Bridge Is Down’: The Secret Plan For The Days After The Queen’S Death”. 2017. theguardian.com.
- “What Happens When The Queen Dies – From 12 Days Of Mourning To Succession”. James Rodger, Fraser Smith. 2019. essexlive.news.