Chinese delegation barred from viewing Queen Elizabeth’s coffin in parliament

EuroActiv Politico News

LONDON — A Chinese government delegation has been refused permission by the House of Commons authorities to attend the queen’s lying-in-state, opening a fresh diplomatic rift with Beijing.

House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle has told colleagues he declined a request for Chinese officials to be allowed to access Westminster Hall, where the late queen will lie in state until her funeral on Monday, a senior parliamentary figure familiar with the matter told POLITICO. Hoyle’s office said it did not comment on security matters.

All heads of state visiting London for the funeral have been invited to attend the lying-in-state in Westminster Hall ahead of Monday’s service, and to sign a book of condolences at Lancaster House.

However, Westminster Hall forms part of the Palace of Westminster, over which the Commons and Lords speakers have authority. Last year the Commons and Lords speakers banned the Chinese ambassador, Zheng Zeguang, from entering parliament after Beijing imposed sanctions on a number of British politicians who have been critical of its treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. That ban is still in place while those sanctions remain.

At the time Hoyle said it was inappropriate for Zheng to “meet on the Commons estate and in our place of work when his country has imposed sanctions against some of our members.” The U.K. government said access to the parliamentary estate was a matter for the parliamentary authorities to decide.

One parliamentary official questioned whether Commons and Lords speakers retain total authority over access to Westminster Hall during the five-day Operation Marquee — the name used to refer to the arrangements for the queen’s lying-in-state — given Buckingham Palace and Whitehall officials are involved in logistics.

But Hoyle’s response opens the possibility that senior Chinese officials will attend the queen’s funeral at Westminster Abbey as representatives of President Xi Jinping on Monday, yet be barred from entering Westminster Hall to pay their respects just yards away.

And it exposes a clear divide between the U.K. parliament and the U.K. government, with the former once again taking a significantly tougher stance against Beijing.

The invitations to the queen’s funeral were drafted by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office last week. Xi received an official invite as China’s head of state, though is not expected to attend in person. The South China Morning Post reported Thursday that China’s Vice President Wang Qishan was likely to go in his place, arriving in London this Sunday. Wang signed a book of condolences for the queen at the British embassy in Beijing this week and observed a minute of silence, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

Helena Kennedy, a Labour peer who is among the politicians sanctioned by Beijing, said: “I feel very strongly that Chinese government officials should be barred from participating in this occasion where the nation of Britain is celebrating the life of our queen,” she said. “They are attacking our parliamentary and constitutional system through members of our legislature.”

U.K. government attitudes toward China look likely to harden in the months ahead. Liz Truss, who became prime minister earlier this month, indicated during the Tory leadership contest that she will be more hawkish towards Beijing than her predecessor Boris Johnson.

She has suggested that she is minded to formally recognize the treatment of the Uyghurs as genocide, and plans to update the U.K. government’s integrated review — its long-term foreign and defense strategy — with stronger language on China. During the contest she attacked her rival Rishi Sunak for seeking closer economic ties with China as U.K. chancellor.

As foreign secretary in August, Truss summoned the Chinese ambassador over Beijing’s aggression towards Taiwan and said there had been “increasingly aggressive behavior and rhetoric from Beijing in recent months, which threaten peace and stability in the region.”