What happens following Queen’s death in Scotland? Operation Unicorn explained - Operation London Bridge differences

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The Queen has died at Balmoral in Scotland, Buckingham Palace has announced.

The Queen has passed away at Balmoral Castle with her family, including the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, by her side.

In a statement, the Palace said: “The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon. The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow.”

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A number of detailed protocols are ready to be put in place following the Queen’s death - including Operation Unicorn, which will be implemented as she has died in Scotland.

This is what you need to know.

What is Operation Unicorn?

Operation Unicorn is the name given to the secret plan that outlines what happens following the Queen’s death in Scotland, rather than England.

Operation Unicorn was first referred to in the Parliament’s online papers in back 2017, when it was agreed to set up a “resilience board for disruptive incidents”.

Scotland coat of arms (Photo: Adobe Stock/Lucian Milasan)Scotland coat of arms (Photo: Adobe Stock/Lucian Milasan)
Scotland coat of arms (Photo: Adobe Stock/Lucian Milasan) | Adobe Stock/Lucian Milasan

However, it was in 2019 that details of Operation Unicorn were uncovered after the minutes from a meeting of the Scottish Government’s Leadership Group (LG) were accidentally leaked back in June 2019.

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The minutes of the meeting said: “LG received an update on planning for Operation Unicorn - the death of Her Majesty The Queen while in Scotland.

“The primary focus was on the impact on staffing and the specific impacts depending on timing.”

What is the Operation Unicorn plan?

Operation Unicorn states that, on hearing the news of the Queen’s passing, parliamentary business would be immediately suspended in order to allow the authorities to prepare for the monarch’s state funeral.

It’s believed that up to six parliamentary days could be lost, but there will be 36 hours to prepare for a motion of condolence in the chamber.

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Following her death in Scotland, the Queen’s body will initially rest at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh before then being carried up the Royal Mile to St Giles Cathedral for a service of reception.

The Royal Standard is flown over the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, Scotland on June 30, 2022 (Photo by Jane Barlow/WPA Pool/Getty Images)The Royal Standard is flown over the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, Scotland on June 30, 2022 (Photo by Jane Barlow/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
The Royal Standard is flown over the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, Scotland on June 30, 2022 (Photo by Jane Barlow/WPA Pool/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Her body will then be placed on the Royal Train at Waverley station which will travel down the east coast mainline to London for the burial service.

It is expected that members of the public will line up to throw flowers at the Royal Train at level crossings and on station platforms situated along the length of the country including Musselburgh, Thirsk, Peterborough and Hatfield.

Another train will follow behind the royal Train in order to clear debris from the tracks.

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Why was the Queen in Scotland?

The Queen was in Scotland because she was in the royal residence of Balmoral, which is situated in Aberdeenshire, near the village of Crathie.

She travelled to Balmoral each year for her summer holiday, to enjoy a few months of relaxation and to spend time with her family.

Queen Elizabeth II waits in the Drawing Room before receiving newly elected leader of the Conservative party Liz Truss at Balmoral Castle on September 6, 2022 in Aberdeen, Scotland (Photo by Jane Barlow - WPA Pool/Getty Images)Queen Elizabeth II waits in the Drawing Room before receiving newly elected leader of the Conservative party Liz Truss at Balmoral Castle on September 6, 2022 in Aberdeen, Scotland (Photo by Jane Barlow - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II waits in the Drawing Room before receiving newly elected leader of the Conservative party Liz Truss at Balmoral Castle on September 6, 2022 in Aberdeen, Scotland (Photo by Jane Barlow - WPA Pool/Getty Images) | Getty Images

The Queen had been at Balmoral since July, and was expected to remain in Scotland until some time in October.

Balmoral Castle is a royal residence owned by the Royal Family and, unlike the monarch’s official residences, Balmoral is a private property, meaning it isn’t owned by the Crown.

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What is Operation London Bridge?

Operation London Bridge is the codename for the plan is put in place following the Queen’s death.

While these plans have been in place for decades, it was in 2021 that specific details of the protocols were unveiled when political news outlet Politico obtained a series of documents regarding Operation London Bridge.

The day that the Queen dies is referred to as D-Day, with every day afterwards referred to as D-Day+1 and D-Day+2 and so on, going up to and including D-Day+10.

Queen Elizabeth II smiles during a visit to officially open the new building at Thames Hospice on July 15, 2022 in Maidenhead, England. (Photo by Kirsty O’Connor-WPA Pool/Getty Images)Queen Elizabeth II smiles during a visit to officially open the new building at Thames Hospice on July 15, 2022 in Maidenhead, England. (Photo by Kirsty O’Connor-WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II smiles during a visit to officially open the new building at Thames Hospice on July 15, 2022 in Maidenhead, England. (Photo by Kirsty O’Connor-WPA Pool/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Politico reported that, in the hours after the Queen’s death, a “call cascade” would take place to inform the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Secretary and a number of the most senior ministers and officials.

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The Prime Minister will be told by the Queen’s private secretary, who will also tell the Privy Council Office, with permanent departmental secretaries to be given a script in order to inform other government ministers.

The royal household will then issue an “official notification” delivering the news to the public.

The UK parliament will adjourn, as well as devolved legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II attend the Royal Company of Archers Reddendo Parade in the gardens of the Palace of Holyroodhouse on June 30, 2022 in Edinburgh, United Kingdom (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II attend the Royal Company of Archers Reddendo Parade in the gardens of the Palace of Holyroodhouse on June 30, 2022 in Edinburgh, United Kingdom (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II attend the Royal Company of Archers Reddendo Parade in the gardens of the Palace of Holyroodhouse on June 30, 2022 in Edinburgh, United Kingdom (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) | Getty Images

The Prime Minister will make a statement, with no other members of the UK government permitted to make any statement until after this point. They will then have an audience with the new monarch, who would be King Charles.

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MPs will offer tributes to the Queen in the House of Commons the day after the Queen’s death, but parliamentary business will be suspended for 10 days.

All government departmental social media pages will go through a blackout, sharing a picture of a black banner in the wake of the Queen’s death and changing their profile pictures to their departmental crest.

The royal family’s website will also update with a black holding page complete with a short statement confirming the monarch’s death. The Government website will have a black banner at the top.

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