The speech made by Theresa Villiers, the Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet, in the House of Commons on 12 April 2021.
I found it very moving to hear the tributes to His Royal Highness flooding in from people around the country, the Commonwealth and the whole world. I join them and everyone in the House in offering my sincerest condolences and sympathies to Her Majesty the Queen and her family at this difficult time.
Clearly, our nation owes the Duke a great debt of gratitude for his bravery, defending our freedom during the war, and for his dedicated public service over seven decades. He played a central role in ensuring both that the monarchy adapted to the modern era and that it remains a well-loved institution at the heart of our national life. I had the honour of meeting His Royal Highness on a number of occasions, including the 2014 and 2016 visits to Northern Ireland that he undertook with Her Majesty the Queen during the period in which I was Secretary of State there. He was well into his 90s when I met him, and what always struck me was the incredible energy and enthusiasm with which he approached everything that he did. It is quite phenomenal that he only chose to retire at 96. He was always courteous and friendly, and I think that the light-hearted remarks about which we have heard so much over the past few days were always intended to put people at ease. He always expressed a genuine and well-informed interest in Northern Ireland and its future.
The BBC has calculated that the Duke made 57 visits to Northern Ireland, and I especially remember his role in the 2014 visit, which broke new ground in the places visited and the proximity to the public. I recall his being solicitously at the Queen’s side, for example, as we visited St George’s market in Belfast. The market is right up close to many locations that saw more than their fair share of violence during Northern Ireland’s long years of tragedy, yet the biggest security scares that day were a Belfast teenager sneaking a quick selfie with Her Majesty and losing Prince Philip in the crowd, as he mingled happily with those who turned out to greet the royal couple.
There was never a lack of spontaneity and unpredictability when it came to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. He was, of course, a crucial part of the Queen’s historic state visit to Ireland in 2011. He suffered deep personal loss at the hands of the IRA, which murdered his uncle, Lord Mountbatten, to whom he was very close. Today, as well as his many other achievements, we should remember the part that the Duke played in reconciliation in Northern Ireland. After such a devastating loss, it could not have been easy to meet and shake hands with Martin McGuinness, but that it is what he and Her Majesty chose to do. What is more, during the state visit of President Higgins, they welcomed Martin McGuinness into their home at Windsor —someone identified with the organisation and at whose hands they had suffered such a terrible loss. In so doing, I believe that they played a personal role in helping to take Northern Ireland forward from its divided past to a better future, and for that we should all express our sincere gratitude to the man whose loss we are sadly mourning today.