King and Queen of Netherlands welcomed to Britain on state visit

The King and Queen of the Netherlands have begun a state visit to the UK aimed at strengthening the bonds between the two nations.

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima were welcomed to Britain by the Queen during a ceremony full of pomp and pageantry but set against the political backdrop of Brexit.

The visiting head of state kissed the Queen warmly on both cheeks and clasped her hands with his, a gesture that was repeated by his wife.

On Horse Guards Parade, the king – making his first official trip to the UK – was also greeted by Britain’s political leaders including Prime Minister Theresa May, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the Home Secretary Sajid Javid.

The Queen and Queen Maxima tour Buckingham Palace. Credit: PA

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall had escorted Willem-Alexander and Maxima from the Dutch embassy to Whitehall.

Waiting on Henry VIII’s former jousting yard was the guard of honour formed by the 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards, in their scarlet tunics and bearskins.

Nearby was the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment in their shining breast plates and plumed helmets and the Band of the Household Cavalry.

The trip follows a pattern that has been dubbed “Brexit diplomacy” – where either members of the British royal family visit EU countries or their heads of state travel to the UK, in an apparent bid to strengthen national friendships as the UK leaves the EU.

The Band of the RAF outside Buckingham Palace Credit: Victoria Jones/PA
The Honour Guard line up at Horse Guards Parade  Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

King Willem-Alexander has spoken of his, and the Dutch government’s, regret about Britain withdrawing from the EU.

In a press briefing with journalists earlier this month, the foreign head of state said he would have liked the British people to have voted to remain in EU but they respected their choice.

The faint sound of royal gun salutes could be heard during the ceremonial greeting – 41 volleys fired by the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery in Green Park to mark the official welcome, and a further 41 fired by the Honourable Artillery Company from their position near the Tower of London.

Charles accompanied the king when he inspected the guard of honour, walking a few metres behind the visiting head of state as he strode past the ranks of guardsmen and officers.

The Dutch royals meet with Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. Credit: PA

Major Gerald Johnston, captain of the guard of honour, presented his men to the king in fluent Dutch, after taking lessons in the language for the event.

Willem-Alexander walked briskly past the men, who are fighting soldiers when not performing ceremonial duties.

The royal party left Horse Guards Parade in a carriage procession with the Queen and the king travelling in the Diamond Jubilee state coach.

The visiting head of state had offered the Queen his arm in assistance before she climbed the carriage’s steps but she declined.

Charles and Camilla followed in the Australian state coach with Maxima.

  • Dutch king says UK will remain 'valued partner' despite Brexit

Later, the traditional exchange of gifts saw the Queen present her guests with a bound album celebrating ties between the Netherlands and the UK, and the royal houses of each country.

It featured facsimiles of documents and portraits from the royal archives of 12 members of the House of Orange, past and present, who have been Knights or Ladies of the Order of the Garter – from Maurice, Count of Nassau to Queen Beatrix, who abdicated in favour of her son King Willem-Alexander in 2013.

In return, Holland’s King and his wife gave their host a bronze statue of a horse by the artist Marja Smits.

After a private lunch, the Queen joined her guests as they viewed items from the Royal Collection that celebrated links between the Dutch and British royal families.

Among the items on display was a picture of the Queen and her former counterpart Queen Beatrix, and an image from the Duchess of Cambridge’s 2016 visit to the Netherlands when she was pictured with Vermeer’s painting Girl with A Pearl Earring.