Keir Starmer: Prince Philip had “life lived in strong and vigorous brushstrokes”

© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Keir Starmer has paid tribute to Prince Philip’s “life lived in strong and vigorous brushstrokes”, Mark Drakeford to “an extraordinary life, remarkably lived” and Anas Sarwar to “his lasting contribution to our country”.

The Duke of Edinburgh died on Friday aged 99. To mark his passing, MPs have returned to Westminster early from parliamentary recess today, while Holyrood and the Senedd have been recalled during an election period.

The UK Labour leader told the House of Commons: “At every stage of our national story for the last seven decades, he has been there. A symbol of the nation we hope to be at our best. A source of stability. A rock.

“Her Majesty once said that “grief is the price we pay for love”. The Duke loved this country. And Britain loved him in return. That’s why we grieve today. But as we remember him, we must also celebrate him.”

Starmer praised the Duke of Edinburgh’s “ceaseless optimism about the country Britain can be, and what the British people can achieve” and said it was right that the Commons was recognising “the virtues he personified”.

The opposition leader told MPs that Prince Philip was a “funny, engaging, warm and loving man” and described the monarchy as “the one institution for which the faith of the British people has never faltered”.

Below is the full text of UK Labour leader Keir Starmer’s speech.

In supporting the Humble Address, I would like to echo the remarks made by the Prime Minister. And, on behalf of my party, to come together today in appreciation of a life well-lived. A life of service and of duty. A life that shaped modern Britain and provided much-needed stability to our national story.

My thoughts, first and foremost, are with Her Majesty the Queen and the Royal Family. Prince Philip was a man of many titles: Duke of Edinburgh. Lord High Admiral. A Royal Commander. Baron of Greenwich. But above all he was a much-loved father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

To Her Majesty the Queen he was not only her “beloved husband”, but – in her words – her “strength and stay” for seven decades. So it’s right that today this House – and the country – comes together to pay tribute not just to a man, but to the virtues he personified.

To his ceaseless optimism about the country Britain can be, and what the British people can achieve. The life of Prince Philip was extraordinary, lived in a century on fast-forward.

A time that saw world war, a cold war, the fall of Empire, 20 Prime Ministers, the invention of the television, the internet, Artificial Intelligence and technology so extraordinary it might have seemed to a lesser person as if from another world.

Throughout that time, the monarchy has been the one institution for which the faith of the British people has never faltered. And as we’ve seen once again in recent days, the Royal family has a connection with the British people that runs as deep today as it did when Philip Mountbatten married the then Princess Elizabeth in 1947.

That is not by chance. It reflects the quiet virtues, discipline and sacrifices we commemorate today. My own connection to the Duke of Edinburgh came long before I entered this place. Like millions of other children, aged 14, I started the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme – or D of E.

My first activity was to volunteer at a local mental health hospital, where, unbeknown to me at the time, my late granddad would later be admitted. And my final activity was wandering around Dartmoor in a small team, with just a compass and a map in the pouring rain, frantically trying to find our way. Mr Speaker: If that doesn’t prepare you for coming into politics, nothing will.

In recent days, I’ve been struck by the countless stories of lives turned around by the D of E awards. Young people who found their confidence, and found their way. This was summed up by a 14-year girl old girl, who said, on passing her Bronze Award, that she felt: “I can do anything now”.

The D of E now covers 130 countries and has helped millions of people around the world. It is perhaps the best symbol of the Duke’s global legacy. He was also patron of more than 800 charities and organisations.

He was the first President of the World Wildlife Fund. He was Patron of the British Heart Foundation. He was President of BAFTA. And he was Chancellor of the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Salford and Wales.

He carried out more than 22,000 solo engagements and countless others alongside Her Majesty the Queen. The Duke will also be remembered for his unstinting support of our Armed Forces. It was in Dartmouth, in 1940, that he graduated as a naval cadet and, as the Prime Minister has described, went on to a distinguished naval career. Today, Mr Speaker, the British Armed Forces mourn one of their greatest champions.

The Duke was a funny, engaging, warm and loving man. He loved to paint. His work has been described, characteristically, as “totally direct, no hanging about. Strong colours, vigorous brushstrokes”. He was also a great lover of political cartoons – not something the Prime Minister or I can say that often.

Although I saw a cartoon this weekend that captured this moment of national and personal loss perfectly: It depicted Her Majesty, dressed in black, looking back at her shadow and seeing the Duke, standing there – as ever at her side, attentive and holding her hand.

Mr Speaker, Britain will not be the same in his absence. For most of us, there’s never been a time where the Duke of Edinburgh was not present. At every stage of our national story for the last seven decades, he has been there. A symbol of the nation we hope to be at our best. A source of stability. A rock.

Her Majesty once said that “grief is the price we pay for love”. The Duke loved this country. And Britain loved him in return. That’s why we grieve today. But as we remember him, we must also celebrate him. A life lived in strong and vigorous brushstrokes. And we offer up this tribute: To the Duke Edinburgh. For a lifetime of public service – The Gold Award.

Below is the full text of Welsh Labour leader Mark Drakeford’s speech.

A very long life, in any circumstances, brings with it a set of remarkable events witnessed and experiences, enjoyed or endured. To have lived such a life at the centre of world events, and in a way which made almost every experience of public rather than simply private interest, makes it even more remarkable still. And that was the life of the Duke of Edinburgh. Llywydd [presiding officer], in our own election, 16- and 17-year-olds will vote for the first time. When Prince Philip was born, women in this country had never voted. In the year in which he became 16, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain were Prime Minister. If it sounds like a lifetime ago, it is because it was.

And, in a way which very few people indeed have to manage, the life which witnessed all those changes had to absorb them all while almost never out of the public eye: always on show, always at the centre of attention, every occasion a special occasion. We will all have heard the tributes of the last few days, and their entirely accurate focus on the theme of public service. But it is worth pausing for a moment to remember the human story that goes alongside the service and the decade after decade in which that service was sustained.

Sustained here in Wales too, of course. By now, members who had forgotten it will have been reminded that as well as being a Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip was also an Earl of Merioneth. Unsurprising, then, that he was patron of as wide a range of Merioneth societies as its cricket club, it yachting club, and the Merioneth brass band. And that is but a small selection of the very wide cultural, sporting and environmental causes with which he was directly involved in Wales.

Llywydd, the last 12 months have seen many families faced with the grief of losing someone they have loved. However it happens, each loss is uniquely felt by those for whom that person will leave a gap in their lives which no-one else can fill. Our thoughts today are with those members of the wider royal family who have to face that loss in the particularly distressing circumstances caused by the public health emergency.

Llywydd, when I moved into the juniors section of the model school in Carmarthen, I took part in a competition organised by the World Wildlife Fund. A small number of far bigger boys and girls were to travel to Cardiff – a very distant and important-sounding place – to attend an event led by the fund’s UK president, the Duke of Edinburgh.

60 years later, the sense of the collision of the personal and the historical has been there to see in the reaction of many of our fellow citizens. It tells us something about the presence of Prince Philip throughout the lifespan of every single member of this Senedd. On behalf of the Welsh government and those who support it in this parliament, itself another enormous development during that lifetime, I send our condolences for the end of an extraordinary life, remarkably lived.

Below is the full text of Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar’s speech.

May I associate these benches with the tributes which have been paid to His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. On Friday we lost an extraordinary public servant, who dedicated his long life to our country, as well as transforming lives for young people across the world, and promoting the issue of global conservation that we all now recognise is so important. On behalf of the entire Scottish Labour Party, I offer my condolences to everyone in mourning here and across the Commonwealth, all his loved ones, the royal family, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and in particular Her Majesty the Queen.

For more than seven decades, Prince Philip was a constant at the Queen’s side. None of us can even begin to understand the pressure of being monarch, in what has often been described as a lonely job. But we know from all that has been said and written how much the Queen cherished the support, counsel, and love of her husband. And while their lives might have been very different to ours, as humans we can all empathise with what it means to lose a loved one. This is hard for anyone no matter how many years they have shared together, but the Queen has lost her beloved husband after spending more than 70 years together. I can’t even imagine how that must feel, and my thoughts and prayers are with Her Majesty in the difficult times ahead.

Presiding officer, unlike others in the chamber, I never had the privilege of meeting Prince Philip. So I’m afraid I don’t have any personal anecdotes I can contribute to the wonderful tributes we have heard today and indeed in recent days. But I was struck by one personal anecdote that some may have heard in recent days on the TV or radio. It came from a man called Jon Watts, who was jailed at the age of 17. Jon recalled “there was lots of alcohol and no aspirations for people like me”, is what he said. But while in prison he came across the Duke of Edinburgh’s award, which he said gave him a new sense of direction.

He camped out for his first award not on a Scottish mountainside, but in a tent on the artificial grass of a prison football pitch. Jon went on to get the bronze, silver and gold award while serving a six-year sentence. The skill he learned during the programme was cooking, and upon leaving prison he set up his very own catering business, now helping other young people to learn new skills and find jobs. “It saved my life,” Jon said last week. That’s just one life that the Prince helped save; there will be countless others from different walks of life.

There are millions of other young people from all walks of life who are reaching their full potential thanks to the Duke of Edinburgh’s award, from the Prince’s own school at Gordonstoun to Drumchapel High School, and right across the UK and the world. And I am sure I am not the only parent who has helped support their children round their Mini Dukes or Junior Dukes, or their Duke of Edinburgh award across the country. When Prince Philip launched the awards in 1956, he said: “If you can get a young person to succeed in any one activity, then that feeling of success will spread over into many others.”

Following the difficult year faced by so many young people, with their lives and their learning disrupted by Covid, Prince Philip’s words from 65 years ago are just as relevant today – and a reminder of the collective national mission we face in the years ahead to make sure every child fulfils their potential. In closing, may I once again pay tribute to the life of the Duke of Edinburgh and recognise his lasting contribution to our country; express my condolences to everyone mourning his passing; not just his own family but people right across the country and beyond, and extend my sympathies to everyone who has lost a loved one in this most difficult of years.

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