Will the government really be able to survive its latest crisis this time?
It is now three days since her Majesty the Queen made her dramatic bid for freedom through the Channel Tunnel. If she had actually been successful in escaping to France, her flight from Britain might have had the most enormous constitutional implications.
Just how near the Queen was to making a clean getaway is now becoming clear. Her escape bid was narrowly foiled at the last moment when the French President, M Francois Mitterand, stepped forward and held her firmly by the hand to prevent any further progress. She was immediately surrounded by 'officials' who made sure she could not take the last few strides to liberty; not long afterwards she was taken back to Britain and returned to the safety of one of the many high security 'castles' in which she will now have to be kept.
The government, of course, are trying to play it down, but fairly soon the word got around that the Queen had been trying to escape, possibly even to seek political asylum abroad. Rumours that the Sun newspaper had supplied the Queen with a free air ticket to the Costa del Sol, where she could start a new life in privacy, were at first taken seriously, till it was realised that fleeing through the newly opened Tunnel was a mighty funny way to fly to Spain, as there is no international airport within miles of Calais.
But now a chastened nation is trying to come to terms with the fact that its monarch had tried to leave office without even leaving a note. The British people are asking themselves why the nerve of this hitherto iron lady had suddenly snapped, and whether their recent lack of respect for the Royal Family had something to do with it.
"I think it is indubitably so," says royal expert Norman St John Fawlty, looking tired and red-rimmed after a sleepless night waiting to be called by Skynews. "The Queen could only take so much from the media. It had been getting worse and worse, but when the press laughed at her for trying to make a joke about her Annus Horribilis, and then suggested she had tried to burn down Windsor Palace for the insurance money, I think she flipped. It was no coincidence that she tried to make a break for it two days before the new Spitting Image season resumed. Say no more."
How well could the Queen have survived on the loose in France, with nobody to advise her, and not much money except what she could take from the Crown Jewels as she left? Well, although the British Royal Family are not great linguists, the Queen is known to speak some German, the family language, and she still has a smattering of the traditional Norman French.
"She can say 'La Reyne le veult', and 'Honni soit qui mal y pense'." says Norman St John Fatwa, "but how far this would get her in modern France is debatable. Her inexperience in shops might well have led to early hunger, if not starvation. Of course, in her favour it must be said that she has many, many family connections on the continent, so the odds of her bumping into a relative are much higher than for most of us."
Was the escape bid planned in advance or just an impulse thing? Some experts have pointed out that if the Queen went on the run in France, most people would fail to recognise her, as the only well-known picture of her - that on British postage stamps - is forty years out-of-date and bears no resemblance to her. But was this on purpose? Had the Queen kept her old portrait on the stamp as a deliberate ploy?
The possibility of a royal escape has obviously not escaped the security forces, which is one reason why the members of the Royal Family are split up the whole time and sent on so many separate assignments. That is why, for instance, Prince Edward was presenting the Pilkington rugby cup to Bath on Saturday afternoon at Twickenham at the very same time that Prince Charles was presenting the Welsh Cup to Cardiff.
"Traditionally," says Norman St. John Wisdom, "the job of attending these rugby finals is the toughest ever given to the Royal Family. The task of staying awake through eighty minutes of meaningless kick and fumble is anathema to the average sensitive Royal. It may well be that the Queen made her bid to go to France as a cry for help. 'Don't make me go to any more Cup Finals!' - that may have been her plea. We can only speculate, which of course is what I am so well paid to do. "
STOP PRESS. Boutros Boutros-Galli pleads for UN force to fly to UK immediately to stem crisis!
The Independent May 8 1994