There was a knock on the door. “Come in,” said the Queen, her heart sinking. It was the moment she had been dreading. Why on earth couldn’t she have carried on her weekly meetings with the prime minister on Zoom?
Not having to deal with Boris Johnson face to face had been one of the few upsides of the coronavirus lockdown. She couldn’t stand the way he put his feet up on the furniture and generally acted as if he owned the place. There was only so much entitlement a Queen could take.
Her private secretary entered the room, closely followed by the prime minister. “Good afternoon, your majesty,” said Boris. “It’s been 15 months since we last met face to face.” “Yes,” she replied, noncommittally. “I’ve just been talking to your secretary of state for health, the poor man.”
“What’s so poor about Matt Hancock?” Johnson asked.
“Well,” said the Queen. “It can’t have been much fun having that ghastly Mr Cummings publish all those messages from you about how useless he is.”
“But he is completely fucking useless. Honestly, you should have seen him in the early days of the pandemic, running around like a headless chicken making all kinds of promises he didn’t keep.
“Admittedly, things have improved a bit since then, but that’s almost nothing to do with his management of the department. In any case he’s safe in his job for now. Partly because we’ll need a useful fall guy at some point and partly because if I do sack him now it will look as if I am reacting to Dom.”
“I see. So how are things going with the coronavirus?”
Boris paused, uncertain of where to start. Probably best with the good news. The vaccination programme continued to go well and with any luck the government would be able to put Malta, Madeira and the Balearics on the green list on Thursday. He also hoped that, come the end of July or early August, British tourists who had been double-vaxxed would be able to go to amber list countries without any need to quarantine or be tested on their return. So foreign holidays may be on again after all.
It was the Queen’s turn to look puzzled. But what if the amber list countries didn’t want any Brits turning up at their airports and insisted that anyone who did would have to be tested and quarantine for 10 days? Wasn’t that what Angela Merkel was trying to extend from just Germany and Italy to the whole of the EU? And if she got her way, wouldn’t that put paid to most foreign holidays? Not that the Queen minded much either way as she was quite happy staying put in Balmoral for the summer.
“Er … there is that, ma’am,” Johnson conceded. Though he couldn’t think for the life of him why the EU would want to be so punitive.
“Perhaps,” the Queen chipped in helpfully, “it’s because – thanks to you being slow to close the borders as you were desperate to visit India – the UK now has the highest rates of infection of the Delta variant in Europe.”
Boris fell silent. The conversation wasn’t going entirely as he had hoped. The Queen thought this a good time to ask how Brexit was going. She was keen to hear how the Northern Ireland protocol was bearing up and the details of the trade agreement with Australia that would add 0.02% to GDP within a mere 15 years.
The prime minister hastily reassured her that the UK had taken back control, but he couldn’t publicly support a campaign to make it compulsory for every house to have a portrait of the Queen on the wall near the front door, however much he might secretly want to.
“I’d also like to add,” Johnson continued, “that plans for a new royal yacht are well advanced.”
“But I don’t want a new ship,” the Queen replied.
“Well that’s rather too bad. I’ve promised the Daily Telegraph readers that I will be building you a new one and I can’t let them down.”
“Why not? You let everyone else down. And besides, who is going to pay for it?
“The department of defence. It probably means we’ll have to have a gun on it somewhere, but that should be no big deal. You’ll love it when it’s built, I promise. And it will do wonders for UK trade.”
“Stop talking Britain down, ma’am. Now how are the rest of your family?”
The Queen stared pointedly at her watch, but Boris failed to notice. “Is Harry still giving you a lot of trouble? If so, I may know someone who can help. Someone who can put the frighteners on him.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
“Not even a gently cracked rib? I can ask Darius Guppy if you like.”
“Have it your own way, ma’am. I also can’t help noticing the decor at the palace is looking a little tired. If you need the number of an interior designer, Carrie knows someone who specialises in shabby chic. The wallpaper starts peeling off in months. And if you’re short of cash, I’m sure I can find a Tory donor who would be willing to pay.”
“Your time is up prime minister. Same time next week. Sadly.”