The late Elizabeth II would have hosted the EU President amid the signing of a new Brexit deal, her long-serving press secretary has said.

King Charles has faced criticism after he welcomed Ursula von Der Leyen to Windsor Castle on Monday, just 90 minutes after a new agreement on the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol was announced by Rishi Sunak.

Dickie Arbiter, who was by the late Queen’s side for 12 years and through three prime ministers, from 1988 to 2000, said that such an occasion is a “courtesy” and not indicative of political interference.

“My guess is that, had the Queen been alive and been asked to do the same thing, she would have done it,” he told i.

“Politicians are always going to whinge and jump up and down because it gets them publicity. The King does as he is told by the advice of Downing Street or the Foreign Office, and it was a courtesy visit.”

WINDSOR, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27: King Charles III receives European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen during an audience at Windsor Castle on February 27, 2023 in Windsor, England. (Photo by Aaron Chown - Pool/Getty Images)
The King receives European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen during an audience at Windsor Castle (Photo: Getty)

The former DUP first minister of Northern Ireland, Baroness Foster, lamented the public meeting as “antagonistic” and “crass”, while former Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg called the move “constitutionally unwise”.

“I don’t think he needs to worry at all,” Mr Arbiter added. “He won’t step out of line – he knows his constitutional role.”

Buckingham Palace has appeared to distance itself from the criticism, while Downing Street insisted that Mr Sunak believed that a decision to host foreign leaders was “fundamentally” down to the King and Palace officials.

Controversy surrounding the King and the commission president has barely made a ripple on the other side of the Channel.

“The EU press doesn’t care at all,” Jack Parrock, a British-born Brussels-based reporter said.

“Most world leaders who come to Brussels to meet European Union officials would then go to formally meet the Belgian King – that’s really common.

“This doesn’t look particularly outside protocol for state visits when people attend the EU institutions.”

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, right, shake hands after a press conference at Windsor Guildhall, Windsor, England, Monday Feb. 27, 2023. The U.K. and the European Union ended years of wrangling and acrimony on Monday, sealing a deal to resolve their thorny post-Brexit trade dispute over Northern Ireland. (Dan Kitwood/Pool via AP)
Rishi Sunak and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agree a new Brexit deal (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty)

The true benefit, however, is in boosting the perception of the EU President’s post.

Mr Parrock told i: “Von Der Leyen loves a photo-op, and the King is a top get for her collection. The Commission President and the President of the European Council, they are the heads of the EU institutions, but they are not really the heads of the EU, so they are always trying to boost their legitimacy.

“The more that they can be seen with the big power players, the better it is. Their profiles are raised by looking like a head of state, when they are not really a head of state.”

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