The speech made by Chris Grayling, the Conservative MP for Epsom and Ewell, in the House of Commons on 12 April 2021.
We have heard a series of fulsome tributes to the Duke of Edinburgh this afternoon, and much has already been said about his extraordinary life and contribution to this country. As somebody who had the honour of serving as Lord Chancellor and then Lord President of the Council over a four-year period, I particularly wanted to say a few words on this very sad occasion. In particular, I wanted to convey my deep condolences to Her Majesty the Queen and the whole of the royal family.
Listening to the debate this afternoon, few would disagree that the reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has been the most distinguished in the history of the monarchy in this country. She is not just a much loved figurehead for our nation; she is respected around the world and continues to be a remarkable figure as Head of State to this country and many others around the Commonwealth, and as head of the Commonwealth. But it is absolutely not, in my view, an exaggeration to say that she could not have done everything she has without the tireless support of the Duke of Edinburgh through the nearly 70 years of her reign. Through all those years, he has been at her side and has helped her give the country the leadership that has been so valuable to us all.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) said, that duty came with personal sacrifice. The Duke of Edinburgh was a very distinguished defender of this country in the second world war and did some extraordinary things during that conflict, but then he gave up a promising career and the potential for high rank—possibly the highest rank—in the Navy to follow the Queen in her role both here and abroad. He did so with a sense of service to this country that few could match.
That sense of duty ran well after most people had long retired. I remember the Duke of Edinburgh taking the time to visit my constituency to open a new building when he was in his 80s. As he strode around the building—and he did stride around the building—I remember remarking to his equerry how impressive and extraordinary it was that he was still doing so much for the country at that age. “He is a lesson to us all,” was the reply, and indeed he was. That visit was nearly 20 years ago, and for most of the years since then, he just carried on with the same work he had been doing for most of his lifetime, retiring only at the age of 96. I do not suppose that many of us will be able to match that.
Away from public duties, the Duke of Edinburgh was a charming and engaging man. I remember, as a Cabinet Minister, attending a dinner at one of the livery companies as its guest for the evening, and being a little surprised to find the Duke around the table as well, clearly outranking me. It turned out that he was not a guest at all but one of the members and a regular attender of the dinners there. He was lively and great company as well—not, of course, to mention that well-known and sharpest of wits.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have been a national team for the United Kingdom for as long as I can remember, and it is going to be very strange without him. This is a very sad time for our country. We have lost somebody who has been a central part of our national life for most of our lifetimes, but for the royal family this is much more. They have lost a husband, a father, a grandfather and a great-grandfather. My simple, final message today is to Her Majesty the Question and her family. What I want to say is this, and I imagine it is on behalf of all of us in this House. We all feel deep sorrow about your loss. We are all thinking of you, and we are all sending you our best wishes on this sad occasion for our whole country.