Major aims to mend rift with Prince: Charles to meet trade minister to discuss co-ordinating trips abroad

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JOHN MAJOR is anxious to patch up a rift with the Prince of Wales over the Prince's complaints about being given insufficient Whitehall backing for his visits abroad.

Prince Charles's frustration at the lack of goverment interest in his export-selling tours will be discussed at a meeting in the next few weeks with Richard Needham, the minister for trade. The Prince was disappointed at the difficulty in getting the Department of Trade and Industry and other departments to co-ordinate their trade missions with his programme of visits.

Mr Needham, who knows the Prince, yesterday conceded: 'I am sure we can do more.' The Prince expressed concern at the lack of interest in his efforts to support British trade during his recent visit to the Middle East.

Arab leaders were astonished to discover that the Royal Yacht Britannia, on which the Prince hosted a banquet, was likely to be scrapped as part of the defence cuts.

Questions about the Prince's role also fuelled a controversy over the fictional character in a BBC Television drama, To Play the King, in which the Queen's successor - an ecologically sound King, not unlike Prince Charles - clashes with the Prime Minister over a speech demanding more for the underprivileged.

During his Middle East trip, Prince Charles told reporters: 'The idea I am searching to redefine my job is rot. It is just that, since the day I got married, people have chosen to ignore the things I continue to do day in, and day out.'

He feels he has been starring in a soap opera from which, so far, it has been impossible to escape. After the separation with the Princess of Wales, he is hoping to focus attention on his serious role of raising issues such as architectural heritage, and the plight of the inner cities.

The Prince is likely to feel he has in Mr Major, whom he meets regularly (most recently last Friday), a Prime Minister who is more sympathetic than Baroness Thatcher. Mr Major has also met the Princess of Wales recently for reasons which were not explained, but led to speculation the Princess was seeking a more fulfilling ambassadorial role abroad.

During Lady Thatcher's period, the Prince undoubtedly felt as constrained as the character in the television thriller: he had deep anxieties about the building of the Channel tunnel, for instance, because it would cost jobs on the ferries and end Britain's historic tradition as an island nation.

Prince Charles wanted to make a speech calling for a referendum on the Channel tunnel project, but accepted advice that constitutionally it would be too dangerous, bringing the monarchy into conflict with a what was a prime piece of government policy.

Prior to his Middle East visit, Prince Charles made the most outspoken attack on the ill-treatment of the Marsh Arabs by Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator. The speech was clearly sanctioned by Mr Major and the Foreign Office and was said to have been well-received by the Arab leaders whom the Prince met.