Goatskin Might Delay the Queen's Speech

  • Possible postponement could hit monarch’s horse-racing plans
  • U.K. prime minister fighting each day for her political life

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The Queen’s Speech -- the presentation of Theresa May’s new government’s program -- may be postponed, and the fallout goes from the sublime to the ridiculous.

The Speech was originally slated for June 19 and moving it will clash with Her Majesty’s annual trip to Royal Ascot, one of the most prestigious horse-racing events in the world and a centerpiece of the British summer. Another complication is that it needs to be written on goatskin paper, which takes a few days to dry.

So even if May managed to get a program for government agreed quickly, it’s not clear that it would be ready in time for Her Majesty to read it out. 

After a disastrous election result that left May’s Conservatives stripped of a majority, she’s still negotiating a deal to get a fringe Northern Irish party to lend its 10 lawmakers to prop up her government. Later on Monday, she will face the wrath of her rank-and-file members of Parliament in a meeting that, if it goes badly, could quickly put an end to her days in power.

The atmosphere of uncertainty swirling around the minority administration was heightened when her spokesman, James Slack, told reporters earlier in the day that Queen Elizabeth II’s speech to both chambers of the legislature setting out the government program and opening the new parliamentary session might be moved. Further details weren’t forthcoming.

That immediately raised the prospect of a calendar clash for the queen, a passionate horse-racing enthusiast. June 20 marks the start of the annual five-day Royal Ascot meeting at a course west of London. The monarch traditionally starts every day driving down the course in a horse-drawn carriage.

Racing Against Time

There may be a solution: BBC horse-racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght tweeted that in 2001, Her Majesty had managed to open Parliament in the morning and get to the track for the afternoon’s racing.

Known as the Gracious Address, the Queen’s Speech was historically written on vellum with ink that takes three days to dry, though it’s now produced on thick goatskin parchment paper that also needs several days to dry. In theory, that means a speech cannot be amended at the last minute and, given the bludgeoning May got by voters, the contents of the speech need an overhaul.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said Monday the Tories’ election-campaign platform would be “pruned away.” How much may become clear Tuesday when May tries to sort out her Northern Irish deal.

Fun fact. It used to be that the acts of Parliament had to be printed on vellum too, dating back to the most important document in England’s history, the Magna Carta. But it was an extremely expensive 500-year tradition to maintain. So now they’re just enshrined on high-quality paper.

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