Queen greets her Nato guests – but problems mount for absent son

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Such engagements would normally be for Prince Andrew to undertake but no longer

Caroline Davies –  The Guardian

The Queen talks to guests during a reception at Buckingham Palace to mark 70 years of the Nato alliance. Photograph: Yui Mok/Pool/EPA

As the Queen hosted world leaders to mark 70 years of Nato cooperation and collective spirit, her Buckingham Palace reception was counterpointed by political discord and protest.

Outside, hundreds of anti-Donald Trump and anti-Nato demonstrators blocked roads in central London. Inside, the Duke of York was absent from the guest list, having quit public life in the wake of his car-crash Newsnight interview addressing Virginia Giuffre’s allegations. The prince has categorically and consistently denied Giuffre’s claims.

As a former Royal Navy helicopter pilot, who was appointed vice-admiral on his 55th birthday, Nato engagements would normally be his gig. But not for the foreseeable future.

Donald Trump arrived after having tea with Prince Charles. Rush-hour traffic had meant the president and first lady, Melania Trump, arrived for their Clarence House tea with Charles and Camilla 40 minutes later than expected.

The US president had earlier displayed uncharacteristic restraint when declining to comment on the scandal surrounding Jeffrey Epstein, a guest at his Mar-a-Lago resort. “I don’t know Prince Andrew, but that’s a tough story, it’s a very tough story,” he said when asked at a breakfast press conference.

The president had obviously forgotten the Palm Beach party in 2000 he had attended, along with the royal and the now disgraced financier, as shown in a photograph taken at the Florida bash. Multiple photographs also show him with the prince during last year’s state visit.

Invitees to the reception included the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, whose advance stated mission was to directly confront the president over the NHS. He had written to Trump on Tuesday morning, voicing opposition to the idea that America’s big pharma would muscle its way into Britain’s health service in any UK-US post-Brexit trade deal.

Trump was unlikely to be well disposed. Earlier he had insisted the US “wouldn’t touch the NHS if you gave it to us on a silver platter”. He is also no fan of Corbyn, having previously opined it would be “so bad” for Britain if Corbyn were to become prime minister.

The Queen was joined by 29 leaders of Nato countries for a group photograph, including the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau.

Other absentees from the reception included Prince William, who is on an official visit to Kuwait and Oman, and Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, who are on a six-week break away from the pressures of royal engagements. The latter once described Trump as divisive and misogynistic, comments Trump later described as nasty.

“Nasty” was the word Trump again deployed on the first morning of this two-day summit, when he called the French president, Emmanuel Macron, “very, very nasty” for suggesting Nato was “brain dead”.

Later the Nato country leaders adjourned to Downing Street for a second reception, this time hosted by Boris Johnson. They were greeted by a school choir singing carols as they posed outside No 10 and a festive tree.

Trump and the first lady arrived at No 10 in his presidential limousine, known as “the Beast”, while others came on foot. The US president gave a lift to Macron and the prime minister of Italy, Giuseppe Conte.

As the Queen entertained her guests, there was further unwelcome news for her absent second son to contemplate. A lawyer for the alleged victims of Epstein told ITV’s This Morning that a woman had come forward with claims that she vividly recalled seeing Andrew and Giuffre at Tramp nightclub in Mayfair in March 2001.

That was the occasion, Andrew had told Newsnight, he could not have been there with Giuffre, then 17, as he was at a birthday party with his young daughter Beatrice, at a Pizza Express restaurant in Woking.

 

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