The British government invited only President Biden and first lady Jill Biden to represent the United States at Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral, the White House confirmed Monday.
The invite issued by Britain to its most powerful ally and top trading partner was confirmed by press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre during a gaggle on Air Force One.
“The invitation [that] was extended to the US government was for the president and the first lady only,” Jean-Pierre said, confirming reports that Biden had been asked not to assemble a more high-powered American delegation due to space constraints.
“As far as invites, I would refer you to the United Kingdom, their government on that protocol generally,” Jean-Pierre said en route to Boston.
The press secretary declined to comment when a reporter asked if Biden would seek to bring along former US presidents if additional spots at the church became available.
“Again, this is a decision that is made for the UK government. They decide who gets invited,” she said. “Again, the invite was for the president and the first lady only. It is for them to move to decide on how they’re going to proceed with invites and they have.”
Westminster Abbey can fit 2,200 people and is expected to host one of the largest gatherings of heads of state in memory Sept. 19 to pay respects to the 96-year-old monarch, who died Sept. 8 at her Balmoral residence in Scotland.
“The invitation for the president and first lady came in the form of a note … It was received late Saturday night. And as you all know, the president accepted the invitation on Sunday morning,” Jean-Pierre said.
In a small nod to the “special relationship” between the UK and US, officials in London will allow Biden to arrive at the funeral in his own presidential vehicle, according to The Times of London.
The Times said Biden would have a special dispensation to arrive in his own US-operated car after an initial report suggested the leader of the free world might be corralled onto a crowded bus.
According to a report from Politico Europe, visiting world leaders would be “bused in en masse [to Westminster Abbey] from a site in west London,” according to planning documents. The Guardian newspaper reported in 2017 that non-royal world leaders would be put up at the five-star Claridge’s hotel for the Queen’s funeral, but it was unclear if those plans still held.
The optics of putting Biden onto a bus with other heads of government prompted concern with one week to go before the event.
An unnamed London-based ambassador told Politico: “Can you imagine Joe Biden on the bus?”
Special Agent Steve Kopek, a Secret Service spokesman, declined to comment on planning for the funeral.
“The United States Secret Service is the global leader in protective operations and we work on a daily basis with our law enforcement and military partners in the United Kingdom and around the world,” Kopek said. “To maintain the operational integrity of our work, we are unable to comment specifically concerning the means, methods or resources used to conduct our protective operations or movements.”
It’s unclear who within the British government decided upon either the sparing US invitation or the transportation scheme that created public confusion.
Biden has not spoken with King Charles III since he took the throne last week. The president rubbed shoulders with the then-Prince of Wales last year during a visit to a climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland. The meeting made headlines when Charles’ wife, then-Duchess Camilla, reportedly complained about Biden’s flatulence at a reception.
“It was long and loud and impossible to ignore,” a source told the Daily Mail at the time. “Camilla hasn’t stopped talking about it.”