Margaret Thatcher is to be given the ultimate accolade of a State funeral when she reaches the end of her days – the first British Prime Minister since Winston Churchill to be afforded such an honour.
But the possibility of a formal procession could be jeopardised by fears that there are insufficient troops available to line the route because the Armed Forces are so overstretched in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Although Lady Thatcher is currently in good health – she was with the Queen at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday – The Mail on Sunday has learned that plans are under way for her funeral, when the time eventually comes, to take place at
St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Queen and Gordon Brown are both in discussions with Lady Thatcher’s private office concerning the arrangements. This does not reflect any concern over Lady Thatcher’s health, but simply the prudent long-term planning necessary for any event involving the Queen.
It has not yet been decided whether the 82-year-old former Conservative leader will lie in state in Westminster Hall. To date the only Prime Minister in the 20th and 21st centuries to be given this honour was Churchill.
There were four non-Royal State funerals in the 19th century – Nelson, Wellington, Palmerston and Gladstone. St Paul’s Cathedral.
Opulent: St Paul's Cathedral, chosen by Lady Thatcher as funeral venue
St Paul’s was chosen at Lady Thatcher’s request. The Queen is expected to be among the many world leaders, Royals and other dignitaries who would be in attendance.
Overall arrangements for the funeral are being led by Sir Malcolm Ross, the Queen’s former Master of the Royal Household, who has managed every Royal funeral since 1997, including those of Princess Diana and the Queen Mother.
A source said: ‘Sir Malcolm has been brought in because he has an excellent track record and is considered the best man for the job.’
Sir Malcolm is renowned for his discretion and kept the plans for the Queen Mother’s funeral in his briefcase for 17 years. It is hoped that those for Lady Thatcher will also not be needed for many years.
His plans have also been discussed with Lady Thatcher’s daughter Carol and son Mark in conjunction with Mark Worthington, her senior adviser.
In a separate proposal, the Queen has also given her permission for Lady Thatcher to lie in the Chapel of St Mary’s Undercroft immediately beneath Westminster Hall on the night before her funeral. Family friends and VIPs would be able to visit the chapel to pay their last respects.
Informed sources last night confirmed that the Queen and Gordon Brown had given their blessing to the preparation of funeral arrangements for Lady Thatcher in recognition both of her achievements and for being Britain’s first woman Prime Minister.
She led the country from 1979 to 1990, winning three Elections and the Falklands War, and was credited with reversing the nation’s post-Second World War decline.