Public records: Philip's apology for being a 'chump'

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Indy Politics

The Duke of Edinburgh was forced into a humiliating apology to Edward Heath over an anti-Common Market gaffe he made as the Government was locked in sensitive negotiations for joining the EEC.

Letters kept secret for 30 years reveal his profuse apology to Mr Heath, who was determined to improve Britain's relations with Europe. In June 1971, just after Mr Heath had convinced the French President, Georges Pompidou, that Britain was ready to join, Prince Philip waded in.

Geoffrey Rippon, who was Britain's chief EEC negotiator, was opening the final session of entry talks in Luxembourg when Prince Phillip told a conference of farmers near Edinburgh that Common Market farm policy was a "frightful mess". He said the problems were caused by the system "completely upending" long-standing agricultural patterns and added: "This is something this country is about to discover if and when it joins."

Newspapers accused Prince Philip of being a "chump" who had dropped a "right royal clanger", and infuriated government officials in London and Brussels. Buckingham Palace issued a statement clarifying his views the day after and Prince Philip wrote to Mr Heath saying he was "appalled" that his remarks could have caused "such a fuss". He added: "I apologise profusely ... At the time my mind was running on a completely different tack and I never dreamed my comments could be construed as being either pro- or anti-Common Market.

"I am afraid the mere words 'Common Market' have the same effect on the press as the bells had on Pavlov's dogs."