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LONDON — The House of Commons chamber, an arena so often renowned for division, was united Friday in tribute to Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, the late Queen Elizabeth II, who died aged 96.
All dressed in black, MPs rose for a minute’s silence before Britain’s new Prime Minister Liz Truss opened two days of parliamentary tributes, hailing the queen as “one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known,” and the “rock on which modern Britain was built.”
“In an instant yesterday, our lives changed forever,” she said of the queen’s death, announced early Thursday evening. “Today, we show the world that we do not fear what lies ahead.”
Acknowledging the “awesome responsibility” bearing upon King Charles III, who as the queen’s eldest child, succeeds her as Britain’s head of state, Truss said “we owe him our loyalty and devotion,” as the U.K. enters a “new Carolean age.” “The crown endures, our nation endures, and in that spirit, I say, god save the king,” she said.
The loss of the queen “robs this country of its stillest point, its greatest comfort, at precisely the time we need those things most,” said Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party.
Amid an uncertain period for the U.K., “where our country feels caught between a past it cannot relive, and a future yet to be revealed,” Starmer urged MPs to “always remember one of the great lessons of our queen’s reign: That we are always better when we rise above the petty, the trivial, the day-to-day, to focus on the things that really matter, the things that unite us rather than those which divide us.”
In remarks that typified the cordiality of the specially convened session, the normally combative Ian Blackford, the leader of the Scottish National Party, said his thoughts were also with Britain’s new prime minister, who, just three days after taking office, is “having to come to terms with the enormity of the loss of the head of state and show the leadership that is now required in her position.”
While somber, MPs’ contributions were also often humorous. Theresa May, the former prime minister, recalled how her weekly audience with the queen was the “one meeting I went to which I knew would not be briefed out to the media.” Describing her majesty as “the most remarkable person I have ever met,” May finished, “I doubt we will ever see her like again.”
Her successor in No. 10, Boris Johnson, hailed the queen as “Elizabeth the Great.” Referring to his final meeting with her majesty on Monday this week, when he tendered his resignation as prime minister, Johnson said she was “as radiant and as knowledgeable, and as fascinated by politics as ever I can remember, and as wise in her advice as anyone I know, if not wiser.”
Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, hailed the queen’s visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011 — the first by a reigning British monarch for 100 years — as “groundbreaking” and a “cathartic moment in British-Irish relations.” “Your majesty, on an island riven by conflict and division, you were a bridgebuilder,” he said.
Friday’s Commons session will run until 10 p.m., bar a brief suspension at 6 p.m. to allow MPs to listen to King Charles III’s address to the nation.
MPs will then gather on Saturday at 1 p.m., when a small number of senior MPs will take the oath to the king before tributes continue until late evening. The House of Lords is also holding tributes.