Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and her husband led an extravagant ceremony on Wednesday to welcome the king and queen of Spain, who began a state visit amid tensions between the two nations over Britain’s exit from the European Union.
The three-day visit by King Felipe VI and his wife, Queen Letizia, came amid a brewing dispute about what Brexit means for the future of Gibraltar, a tiny British territory at the tip of the Iberian peninsula. While the rocky enclave has been a source of friction between Britain and Spain for centuries, Brexit negotiations have pushed the territory’s status to the fore.
There was no sign of discord as the Spanish royals arrived at Buckingham Palace, though, with Britain treating them to the full pomp and pageantry traditionally rolled out for visiting heads of state.
Prince Philip and Felipe first inspected troops at central London’s Horse Guards Parade, a former royal jousting yard. Dozens of soldiers on horseback then escorted both monarchs and their spouses in a spectacular procession down The Mall, decorated with Union Jack and Spanish flags. Felipe rode with the queen in the 1902 State Landau, a gilded carriage built for the coronation of King Edward VII, while Philip travelled with Letizia in a separate carriage.
Felipe and Letizia are the first Spanish monarchs to visit Britain since Felipe’s father toured the country in the 1980s.
Both royal lines are descended from Queen Victoria. Felipe’s great-grandmother, Queen Ena of Spain, was Victoria’s youngest granddaughter. Victoria is Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother.
Britain is annoyed with Spain and the EU because Brussels has said Spain should have veto rights on any agreements regarding Gibraltar during Brexit talks.
Felipe is expected to speak about Gibraltar when he addresses Parliament later Wednesday.
He and his wife will then dine at a state banquet in the ballroom of Buckingham Palace, where they are staying.