The media used to love it when former President Donald Trump would break protocol during his visits with the British royal family.
In June of 2019, Talia Lakritz of Business Insider wrote a piece detailing every time Trump broke protocol. One time, he — prepare yourselves — went for a handshake with the queen instead of a bow. Another time, he walked in front of the queen. And then there was the time he touched her back.
This kind of obloquy thrown at the Windsors is enough to make Johnny Rotten faint. That’s not even counting the mother of all Trump protocol breaches, however — that time in 2018 when he was apparently late enough for a meeting that the queen checked her watch.
— 11th Hour (@11thHour) July 14, 2018
You might not have remembered this because, like almost every manufactured Trump-related outrage of the moment, it disappeared after a fresher outrage came off the assembly line. However, I bet you probably saw it before our news channels got distracted by a shiny new pseudo-affront. (He was probably too chummy with Boris Johnson or something.)
Meanwhile, when President Joe Biden broke royal protocol during his meeting with Queen Elizabeth II on Friday, it barely got covered outside of the British tabloids, who love this sort of thing.
According to the U.K. Daily Mail, Biden and his motorcade arrived at a G-7 dinner in Cornwall five minutes after the queen and other royals arrived.
In royal-land, this is a big no-no. Protocol states that all guests must be present before the queen makes her entrance. The other world leaders gathered in southwest England for the G-7 summit had already made their way there.
“It is correct for everyone to arrive before the royal personage and protocol rules that no guest should leave an event before a member of the Royal Family,” says Debrett’s, a leading authority on etiquette.
Biden and his 18-vehicle motorcade didn’t quite make that, alas.
“The US President’s convoy of cars was flanked by eight police outriders, arriving at the venue shortly before 7pm,” the Daily Mail reported.
“They had driven from the G7 hotel in Carbis Bay following a photo call on the beach and a round of meetings with other world leaders.”
It’s worth noting the queen seemed happy nonetheless:
— British Embassy Washington (@UKinUSA) June 11, 2021
Perhaps this was because, as the Daily Mail reported, “[t]he Royals are at the centre of Britain’s diplomatic mission to woo the US as Mr Johnson pushes for a quick free trade deal with President Biden as well as a quarantine-free travel corridor this summer.”
This would explain the rare appearance of not only the queen, but Prince Charles, Prince William and their respective spouses.
“It is rare for the monarch and the two heirs to be together at the same official engagement outside of Buckingham Palace,” the Daily Mail noted.
(To be fair, the former first lady committed one of the most visible lapses in royal protocol in 2009 when she hugged the queen, which is considered a very substantial no-no. However, inside sources have said the queen didn’t mind, which lends credibility to the anecdote.)
And to Americans, it is all rubbish. Royal protocol is so arcane and unnecessary that even a desultory read-through of what a visit with the Windsors entails makes you understand why all that tea ended up at the bottom of Boston Harbor.
That said, an American president and their entourage should endeavor to follow it whenever they’re on British soil, but we should give them a little bit of leeway if they gaffe.
Unfortunately, this is Joe Biden, so it wasn’t his only gaffe since he’s arrived in Merrie England. During a speech at a Royal Air Force base, where he addressed American troops stationed there, he called the RAF the “RFA.”
Joe Biden incorrectly refers to the Royal Air Force (RAF) as the “RFA” pic.twitter.com/udXsW7A4ff
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) June 9, 2021
“These partnerships have been hardened in the fire of war. Generations of Americans and service members fought them. Like the original Bloody Hundredth and those RFA pilots,” Biden said.
Anyone who’s ever watched a World War II movie knows it’s the RAF, not RFA.
It didn’t help that this came after his wife had to tell him to “pay attention” when he was distracted by troops sitting down behind him.
Jill Biden to Joe during speech: "Joe, pay attention." pic.twitter.com/gl0kEudTYC
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) June 9, 2021
I’m pretty sure she was only half-joking.
Again, most of the coverage of these mistakes has come from conservative media or the British tabloids. If this were a Trump visit to a G-7 meeting in Cornwall, words like “disaster” and “embarrassment” would be bandied about on “Meet the Press” and the “CBS Evening News.”
President Biden and his wife will meet the queen for tea at Windsor Castle on Sunday, providing another prime opportunity for a protocol gaffe.
Don’t expect to hear too much about it, though — no matter how many times the queen checks her watch.