The speech made by Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, in the House of Commons on 12 April 2021.
In supporting the Humble Address, I would like to echo the remarks made by the Prime Minister and, on behalf of my party, to come together today in appreciation of a life well lived, a life of service and of duty, and a life that shaped modern Britain and provided much needed stability to our national story.
My thoughts, first and foremost, are with Her Majesty the Queen and the royal family. Prince Philip was a man of many titles—Duke of Edinburgh, Lord High Admiral, a royal Commander, Baron of Greenwich—but above all he was a much loved father, grandfather and great grandfather. To Her Majesty the Queen he was not only her beloved husband, but, in her words, her “strength and stay” for seven decades, so it is right that, today, this House and the country come together to pay tribute not just to a man, but to the virtues he personified, and to his ceaseless optimism about the country Britain can be and what the British people can achieve.
The life of Prince Philip was extraordinary, lived in a century on fast-forward and a time that saw world war, a cold war, the fall of empire, 20 Prime Ministers, and the invention of the television, the internet, artificial intelligence and technology so extraordinary it might have seemed to a lesser person as if from another world. Throughout that time, the monarchy has been the one institution in which the faith of the British people has never faltered. As we have seen once again in recent days, the royal family has a connection with the British people that runs as deep today as it did when Philip Mountbatten married the then Princess Elizabeth in 1947. That is not by chance; it reflects the quiet virtues, the discipline and the sacrifices we commemorate today.
My own connection to the Duke of Edinburgh began long before I entered this place. Like millions of other children, I—aged 14—started the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, or the DofE, as we called it. My first activity was to volunteer at a local mental health hospital where, unbeknown to me at the time, my late grand-dad would later be admitted. My final activity was wandering around Dartmoor in a small team, with a compass and a map in the pouring rain, frantically trying to find our way. Mr Speaker, if that doesn’t prepare you for coming into politics, nothing will.
In recent days, I have been struck by the countless stories of lives turned around by the DofE Award—young people who found their confidence and found their way. This was summed up by a 14-year-old girl who said, on passing her bronze award, that she felt:
“I can do anything now.”
The DofE Award now covers 130 countries and has helped millions of people around the world. It is perhaps the best symbol of the Duke’s global legacy. He was also patron to more than 800 charities and organisations. He was the first president of the World Wildlife Fund. He was the patron of the British Heart Foundation. He was president of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and he was chancellor of the Universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Salford and Wales. He carried out, as has been said, a staggering total of more than 22,000 solo engagements, and countless others alongside Her Majesty the Queen.
The Duke will also be remembered for his unstinting support of our armed forces. It was in Dartmouth in 1940 that he graduated as a naval cadet. As the Prime Minister has described, he went on to a distinguished naval career. Today, the British armed forces mourn one of their greatest champions.
The Duke was a funny, engaging, warm and loving man. He loved to paint. His work has been described, characteristically, as
“totally direct, no hanging about. Strong colours, vigorous brushstrokes.”
He was also a great lover of political cartoons—not something the Prime Minister and I can say often. Although I saw a cartoon this weekend that I think captured this moment of national and personal loss perfectly. It depicted Her Majesty dressed in black, looking back at her shadow and seeing the Duke standing there, as ever at her side, attentive and holding her hand.
Britain will not be the same in the Duke’s absence. For most of us, there has never been a time when the Duke of Edinburgh was not present. At every stage of our national story for the last seven decades, he has been there, a symbol of the nation we hope to be at our best, a source of stability, a rock.
Her Majesty once said:
“Grief is the price we pay for love.”
The Duke loved this country and Britain loved him in return. That is why we grieve today. But we must also celebrate him: a life lived in vigorous brushstrokes, like his painting, and we offer up this tribute, “To the Duke of Edinburgh, for a lifetime of public service, the gold award.”