With news that the Queen has invited the Emperor and Empress of Japan for a State Visit this spring (they said yes), the impression is very much business as usual after a more than bumpy start to 2020 for the House of Windsor. The prospect of all the pomp and ceremony that these special events bring is a welcome relief. But it’s also a reminder that the UK no longer has outgoing State Visits and raises the question of whether it’s time for the Prince of Wales to take on that mantle.
OK, I know technically that’s a no. A State Visit is just that – a visit by the Head of State. When the Emperor of Japan arrives, it will be The Queen who welcomes him. It’s an important symbolic and political moment. But since the Queen decided to cut back on her overseas travel, that means the UK isn’t taking on outgoing State Visits. The last was in 2015 when Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh travelled to Germany. Half a decade on, now feels like the right time to change that.
The Royal website tells us that State Visits ‘’play an integral role in strengthening Britain’s relationships with countries around the world’’. And there’s no doubt that in recent times, the Queen has been at the helm of this sparkling and soft diplomacy with some of the UK’s most important allies.
She steered the much criticised State Visit by US President, Donald Trump, into smooth waters last summer while her welcome to two of Europe’s newest monarchs, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and King Felipe VI of Spain, has helped cement relationships with their nations at a time when the UK’s bond with Europe has been the talking point of the continent.
But the opportunity to strengthen ties by visiting different nations is now on ice. It’s understandable – after all, the Queen will be 94 this April. However, it means that rather than 3-4 incoming and outgoing State Visits a year, opportunities for outreach are more limited. And that’s where the Prince of Wales comes in.
Charles currently spends large chunks of his time representing the UK abroad. Last year alone, he carried out 148 engagements overseas and, along with the Duchess of Cornwall, made an historic visit to Cuba in 2019, a groundbreaking moment for the Royal Family. But these are always official visits as are the trips made overseas by other members of the Royal Family. However high profile they might be, they don’t have the same weight as a State Visit.
So my royal wish for 2020 is that a mechanism is found for the Prince of Wales to start representing the country he has served so well on State Visits. As the UK’s status on the world stage changes with its departure from the European Union, the ability to promote the nation overseas has perhaps never been more pressing. It would widen the reach of royal diplomacy which, despite the hot and heavy debates of recent times, remains a useful tool. Besides, Prince Charles and Camilla would do the job extremely well and deserve the plaudits that would come their way as a result.
The Royal Family has made it clear they are looking to the future, announcing this State Visit just hours after the extraordinary statement made by the Queen following talks over the future of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. And I would argue that that future would be strengthened even further by allowing the heir to the throne to undertake outgoing State Visits, bolstering both his dynasty and his country.