Archie Bland: Protecting royal secrecy doesn't stand up to scrutiny

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Prince Charles is presumably punching the air with relief. I say presumably: we'll never know, not even if he describes it to a minister in one of the letters in which he also expresses a strong view on policy. Anyway, if he is doing so, he has Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, to thank. In vetoing a court ruling that letters from Charles to the Government should be published, Mr Grieve laid out an argument for the protection of royal secrecy that doesn't stand up to even cursory scrutiny. It is, plainly, a self-serving and disingenuous ruling. I hope the Attorney General is thoroughly embarrassed.

The gist of the matter is this. The prince is notorious for his view that his strong feelings on a number of subjects entitle him to express those opinions to the relevant authorities, presumably by dint of his birth. In itself, this is galling. But what Mr Grieve said yesterday made it even worse: the Prince is not only entitled to express those views with a vigour and expectation of influence that no private citizen could hope to match. He is also entitled to do so in absolute secrecy.

The real reasons for this decision are, it seems safe to say, a lot to do with the embarrassment that would ensue if we were able to see exactly how politicians respond to the future monarch's bidding when he is being, as Grieve put it, "particularly frank". Officially, though, it's because such correspondence forms an important part of Charles' "preparation for kingship". Publication of the letters, Grieve said, "would potentially have undermined his position of political neutrality" – and his neutrality is a "matter of the highest importance".

Even if we disregard the absurdity of the idea that this 63-year-old man is receiving an education in the ways of monarchy by bothering busy people, we can surely all see the fast one Grieve's pulling here, right? He's saying that not publishing the letters will help maintain the prince's neutrality. But it's perfectly obvious to anyone who speaks English that his move will do nothing of the kind: instead, it will help Charles maintain the illusion of neutrality while exercising his influence as much as he likes. Grieve is right that his neutrality is important, but there's only one thing that might encourage him towards it: the expectation that he be held accountable for his interventions.

There's no chance of that now: Grieve wouldn't even need to intervene these days, as the rules have been changed to exclude the Prince from the kind of transparency laws that should have put these letters in the public domain. Guess who apparently lobbied behind the scenes for that one? It was Charles, apparently. But once again, we'll never know for sure.