THE Christmas conundrum facing David Cameron and his Cabinet was: what do you give the woman who has everything?
Sixty place mats and a vast tract of icy wasteland was the conclusion arrived at by Her Majesty’s ministers when they rolled out the red carpet for her yesterday.
The gifts were presented to the Queen when she became the first monarch to attend a peacetime Cabinet meeting for well over 200 years.
The place mats, depicting Buckingham Palace and made by the Gloucestershire company Lady Clare Ltd, were given to the Queen by the members of the Cabinet, who paid for them.
Likely to come in handy when the Queen is being hospitable, they contrasted with the second gift which was a piece of land that is distinctly inhospitable. After leaving Downing Street, the Queen visited the Foreign and Commonwealth office where it was announced that an area of British Antarctica has been named Queen Elizabeth Land in honour of her Diamond Jubilee.
During the Cabinet meeting, the Queen sat in the Prime Minister’s seat and was flanked by Mr Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague.
The Prime Minister welcomed the Queen to the meeting. Although she receives all Cabinet minutes, yesterday was the first time in her 60-year reign that she had seen one in action.
After she was welcomed by Mr Cameron, the meeting opened with the Chief Whip Sir George Young talking about the proposal to change royal succession rules to allow a first-born girl to become head of state even if she has a younger brother.
It must have been a subject close to the Queen’s heart given recent news of the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy.
Kenneth Clarke outlined the government’s justice bill while Afghanistan and parliamentary business was also discussed.
The Queen made two contributions. According to the Prime Minister’s spokesman, her first remark was a gentle quip requesting that the next Queen’s Speech be on the “shorter rather than the longer side”.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: “The Queen seemed very relaxed, in a very good mood and took an enormous interest in the Cabinet discussion.
“People were perhaps more considered in what they said, but nevertheless it was a proper discussion on the general economic situation and the inflation figures and Afghanistan.”
Asked whether she might have enough table mats already before yesterday’s gift, which also included a donation to the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, Mr Pickles said: “One can never have too many table mats.”
He dismissed suggestions from some that the Queen was crossing a constitutional line by attending the Cabinet. Some had questioned if it was appropriate for a hereditary monarch to attend an elected Cabinet.
Mr Pickles said: “We are her Cabinet, we operate for her. She was sat in the seat where the Prime Minister traditionally sits and, given it’s her Cabinet, she can come any time she wants.”
After half an hour, the Queen left Number 10 and walked the short distance to the Foreign Office, where Mr Hague announced an area of British Antarctica was to be named Queen Elizabeth Land. It is around 169,000 square miles, making up just under a third of the whole land mass of the British Antarctic Territory, and is almost twice the size of the UK.