King and von der Leyen meeting ‘not unusual’, says Cleverly

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Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has rejected claims that the King was being drawn into political controversy over his meeting with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

Mr Cleverly denied ministers were politicising the monarchy following the meeting between the King and the Brussels official at Windsor Castle, which coincided with the agreement of a new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.

Audience at Windsor Castle
The King receives European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen during an audience at Windsor Castle (Aaron Chown/PA)

He pointed out that the King had met Volodymyr Zelensky earlier this month, although the Ukrainian President is a head of state, unlike Ms von der Leyen.

Mr Cleverly told LBC radio: “I genuinely don’t understand that argument. The other week President Zelensky came to the UK and, as a senior international guest, he had an audience with His Majesty the King.

“Ursula von der Leyen is a very senior international representative. It is therefore not unusual as part of our hospitality to international guests to facilitate a meeting.

“It was our invitation for Ursula von der Leyen to come to the UK to finalise this deal with the Prime Minister. Of course that was a conversation we had with the Palace.

“The final decision on the availability of His Majesty is with the Palace.”

Asked who arranged Ms von der Leyen’s meeting with the King, Mr Cleverly told Sky News: “Decisions about the King’s diary are, rightly, for the Palace.”

Buckingham Palace said Charles was acting on “the Government’s advice”. Downing Street said it was “fundamentally” a decision for the King.

Government sources indicated Ms von der Leyen had requested the meeting, something denied in Brussels.

Leading Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said it was wrong to involve the King in the “immediate political controversy” on the day the Prime Minister signed a new agreement – dubbed the Windsor Framework – with Ms von der Leyen.

Baroness Arlene Foster, the former Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader and first minister of Northern Ireland, said the meeting in Windsor Castle was “crass and will go down very badly”.

Giving details of the meeting, Ms von der Leyen said: “We discussed the joint challenges the EU and UK face as historic partners, and our joint duties: unwavering support for Ukraine and fighting global climate change.”

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