and MARIANNE MACDONALD
Pressure grew at Westminster last night for the Prince and Princess of Wales to agree an early divorce to avoid further damage to the monarchy in the wake of last night's BBC Panorama interview by Princess Diana.
Conservative MPs, including ministers, last night said that the Prime Minister's assurance that the Princess of Wales could become Queen was no longer tenable after her acceptance in the interview that the marriage was over.
The controversial interview was broadcast following an unprecedented security operation at BBC Television Centre, in west London, with only a handful of senior executive aware of its contents.
Such was the secrecy surrounding the project that three former Royal Marines were detailed to guard the door of the G3 studio in White City where the programme's titles and credits were being added. At the end of last week the studio, which is normally open to all BBC staff, was swept for bugging equipment in a bid to head off possible leaks - although in the event the only leaks of the content of the interview appear to have come from the Princess herself.
Prince Charles, who watched the programme at his home, Highgrove, in Gloucestershire, had earlier flown to Kensington Palace, although Buckingham Palace said he had not met his estranged wife. The palace said he had landed at the Princess's home because there was not space for everyone to land on the lawn at Buckingham Palace where the Queen gave a 60th-birthday lunch for King Hussein of Jordan.
As the impact of the Panorama interview began to sink in, senior backbenchers were outspoken in their contempt for the Princess: "Divorce: make her a Duchess and let her go to California. If you take the job you have to take the package," said one source close to the Conservative Party leadership.
The interview, which is thought to have been one of the most-viewed programmes ever shown by the BBC, appears to have hardened views against her at Westminster. There is widespread scepticism over the assurances given by the Prime Minister when he announced to the Commons on 10 December 1992 that Prince Charles and the Princess were separating after 11 years of marriage.
There was total disbelief at the prospect of the Princess becoming Queen, if she remains separated from the future King. The Prime Minister told MPs three years ago: "There is no reason why the Princess of Wales should not be crowned queen in due course."
A former Tory whip said: "The idea the Princess of Wales can be Queen is barmy. And the idea that the Prince of Wales can go to Westminster Abbey for the Coronation with [Camilla] Parker-Bowles while the Princess turns up in a carriage with one of her men friends is barking."
Toby Jessel, a Tory member of the Commons select committee on national heritage, said: "I think divorce should take place. Whether we wait 12 months or two years is a matter of judgement. It should take place in the reasonably near future. Public opinion has now broadly accepted that the marriage has irretrievably broken down."
The divorce was the main topic of gossip around the corridors and bars at Westminster but views were divided over whether Charles should remain heir, or whether it should pass straight to Prince William. A former minister said: "Yes, there will be a divorce but it means that Charles is finished."
Constitutional experts said the Princess's decision to go ahead with the interview without consulting the Queen could lead to a full-scale constitutional clash. Dr John Barnes, a reader in government history at the London School of Economics, believes that the way in which the authority of the Queen was ignored has brought the prospect of a republican United Kingdom nearer.
"Quite simply, Diana is stating, 'I'm no longer playing the game the firm's way. And I'm not going to tell the firm what I'm doing,' " he said, adding that this amounted to "the end of the Princess of Wales playing by even the minimum of royal rules."
Most MPs appear to hope that the Queen will withstand the controversy. Many reported that support for her, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Princess Royal remains high, in spite of a collapse of support in their constituencies for the rest of the Royal Family. Some Labour MPs believe the controversy should put the future of the Royal Family back on the political agenda. Denis McShane, the Labour MP for Rotherham, called for a referendum on the Monarchy. He said it should be turned into a Scandinavian-style monarchy.
Michael Brown, a Tory backbencher, said: "I don't think if they were divorced it would be end of the world. Most of my constituents are saying it is terrible situation and it is probably sensible to end it."
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