London Bridge is down, what happens when the Queen dies?

9 September 2022

“London Bridge is down” is said to be the official code phrase used by British authorities to convey news of the death of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, in government circles. And now that the Queen has died, a plan called Operation London Bridge, outlining happenings in the hours and days that follow, will be executed.

The prime minister will be woken, if she is not already awake, and civil servants will say “London Bridge is down” on secure lines. From the Foreign Office’s Global Response Centre, at an undisclosed location in the capital, the news will go out to the 15 governments outside the UK where the Queen is also the head of state, and the 36 other nations of the Commonwealth for whom she has served as a symbolic figurehead – a face familiar in dreams and the untidy drawings of a billion schoolchildren – since the dawn of the atomic age.

But before Operation London Bridge plan can be put into effect, Operation Unicorn needs to play out. Operation Unicorn was devised in the event the Queen died in Scotland. As she usually spent three months a year at Balmoral Castle, about eighty kilometres west of Aberdeen, the possibility of her dying there needed to be taken into account.

It is expected her body will be transported from Balmoral to the nearby city of Aberdeen on Friday morning local time. It will then be loaded onto the Royal Train for a journey down Scotland’s east coast to the capital, Edinburgh. Mourners are expected to line the route and kilted soldiers will form guards of honour at stations along the way.

The Queen’s body will lie in state at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, before travelling by train to London. Once the train crosses the Scottish border into England, Operation London Bridge will commence.

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