President Biden signs condolence book for Queen Elizabeth II

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden paid their respects to Queen Elizabeth II on Sunday, visiting her state coffin at Westminster Hall in London and signing condolence books at Lancaster House.

The President said on Sunday that the Queen was “the same in person as her image – decent, honorable and service-oriented”.

“We had the opportunity to meet so many important people. But I can say that the ones that stand out in your mind are those whose relationship and interaction with you is consistent with their reputation,” Biden said after signing a book of condolences on Sunday evening.

Biden, who has often spoken of his own losses, also expressed his condolences to the royal family and the whole of the UK, saying: “It’s a loss that leaves a giant hole, and sometimes you’ll think that you’ll never get over it. But as I told the king, she’ll be with him every step of the way.”

Biden said the Queen reminded him of his late mother because of her mannerisms, saying, “She had this look, like, ‘Are you okay? Is there anything I can do for you? What do you need? Also, ‘Make sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to do.'”

Biden took his time to sign a lengthy message in the condolence book, writing in part, “She treated everyone with dignity and respect. Jill and I were honored to have met her and to feel her warmth. Our thoughts are with the royal family and the people of the United Kingdom.”

Jill Biden, who told CNN on Sunday she was overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and respect she showed for the Queen in London, signed a separate condolence book for the leaders’ wives at Lancaster House. She wrote, in part, “Queen Elizabeth II lived her life for the people she served with wisdom and grace. We will never forget her warmth, her kindness and the conversations we shared.”

The Bidens were joined earlier during their visit to Westminster Hall by Jane Hartley, the US ambassador to the UK. The president was seen making the sign of the cross.

The Bidens also attended a Sunday evening reception at Buckingham Palace for visiting foreign leaders hosted by Britain’s new king, Charles III.

Jill Biden told CNN her conversations with Charles and the Royal Family at the reception were strictly about the Queen.

“We really talked about the woman, who she was and what she really meant to the whole world,” Biden said, adding that she noted to Charles the human toll of grief.

The president arrived in London on Saturday evening for a two-day visit to honor the long-reigning monarch, who he said “defined an era”.

Biden joins leaders from dozens of other nations in paying tribute to the late ruler, whom he met last year and later said reminded him of his own mother.

For Biden, it’s a moment to reflect on a monarch who embodied a commitment to public service and whose life charted the great historical events of the past 100 years.

Biden and the Queen first met in 1982, when as a young senator, Biden’s own Irish American mother told him, “Don’t bow down to her.”

He did not bow then, or when he met the Queen as president last year while attending a Group of 7 summit in England. But her respect for a woman whose steadfastness on the world stage over the past century was unparalleled is evident.

“She was a great lady. We’re so glad we met her,” Biden said on the day of her death.

The Queen’s surprise decision last year to travel to the Cornish coast to meet world leaders at the G7 summit was a signal of her desire to remain engaged in world affairs.

Later that week, when she hosted Biden and the first lady for tea at Windsor Castle, she inquired about two authoritarian leaders, Presidents Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia, later said the President to journalists.

“I loved his sense of curiosity,” Jill Biden told CNN on Sunday of their time alone with the Queen. “She wanted to know everything about American politics, so she asked Joe question after question.”

At the Sunday evening reception, the president saw Charles for the first time since becoming king. The two men have previously met and spoken to each other over the phone last week.

As Prince of Wales, Charles was a passionate campaigner for some issues that Biden also championed, including the fight against climate change. It remains to be seen how involved the new king will be on these issues in the future.

Relatively close in age – Charles is 73, Biden is 79 – the pair have a shared experience of being in the public eye for decades before taking on their current roles as heads of state.

During his call with the King, Biden “conveyed the great admiration of the American people for the Queen, whose dignity and steadfastness have deepened the enduring friendship and special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom,” the White House said. “President Biden has expressed his desire to continue a close relationship with the King.”

Security in the British capital is at an all-time high in memory as Biden and dozens of other world leaders come together to remember the late Queen, who met 13 sitting US presidents during her reign.

White House aides declined to provide specific security details for the president’s visit, but say they are working well with their British counterparts to ensure presidential security requirements are met.

Plans for the Queen’s funeral have been in place for years, giving US advisers a better understanding of precisely what will happen over the next few days as they take security measures. The White House said it received an invitation only for the president and first lady, which reduces the American footprint.

Biden traveled with his national security adviser, communications director and other personal aides aboard Air Force One in London.

When reports emerged last week that world leaders would be required to take a bus to the funeral, US officials were skeptical and dismissed the suggestion that Biden would travel to Westminster Abbey in a coach.

In 2018, when other world leaders traveled together on a bus to a World War I memorial in Paris, then-US President Donald Trump traveled separately in his own vehicle. The White House explained at the time that the separate trip was “due to security protocols.”

The Queen’s death came at a time of economic and political turmoil for the UK. A new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, took office after months of uncertainty following the decision of her predecessor, Boris Johnson, to step down.

Truss has invited several visiting world leaders to meet individually at 10 Downing Street this weekend. In the role of just over a week, this will be Truss’ first time meeting many of his foreign counterparts.

While his office initially said Biden would be among the leaders visiting Downing Street, it was later announced that Truss and the president would meet for formal bilateral talks on Wednesday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

A host of issues are currently testing the US-British ‘special relationship’, which has been heralded several times since the Queen’s death.

It was only two days after Truss traveled to Balmoral Castle in Scotland to formally accept the Queen’s nomination as Prime Minister that the long-reigning monarch died. Since then, the country has been in a formal period of mourning.

Truss inherited a deep economic crisis, fueled by high inflation and soaring energy costs, which raised fears that the UK could soon enter a prolonged recession. The challenges were compounded by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which caused volatility in oil and gas markets.

While few in the Biden administration shed tears at Johnson’s resignation — Biden once described him as Trump’s “physical and emotional clone” — the US and UK were deeply aligned in their approach to Russia under his leadership.

White House officials expect cooperation to continue under Truss, even as she comes under pressure to ease economic pressures at home.

It is less certain, however, that Truss’ hardline approach to Brexit will hurt relations with Biden. The President took a personal interest in the particular issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol, a post-Brexit deal that requires additional checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The rules were designed to keep the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland open and prevent a return to sectarian violence. But Truss decided to rewrite those rules, causing deep anxiety in Brussels and Washington.

Biden, who frequently references his Irish ancestry, has made his views on the matter clear, even if he does not directly involve the United States. Congress Democrats have also expressed concern about any move that could reignite the conflict in Northern Ireland.

During their first phone call as counterparts earlier this month, Biden raised the issue with Truss, according to the White House. An American reading of their conversation said they discussed a “shared commitment to protecting the gains of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the importance of reaching a negotiated agreement with the European Union on the Northern Ireland Protocol”.

This story and title have been updated.

Angela C. Hale