Tony Blair defends 'helpful' Prince Charles

Tony Blair has defended the Prince of Wales as "immensely helpful" after the former prime minister was quoted as saying Charles was "screwing" his government.

According to extracts from Alistair Campbell's diary, published in the Guardian on Saturday, Mr Blair believed the Prince went too far in getting publicly involved in sensitive political issues like fox-hunting and genetically modified foods.

But the former premier stressed today that he "welcomed" the heir to the throne's contributions.

In a letter published in the newspaper, Mr Blair admitted that prime ministers may "sound off from time to time".

But he added: "I want to make it clear that I always found my discussions and correspondence with Prince Charles immensely helpful.

"I thought he had a perfect right to raise questions and did so in an way that was both informative and insightful."

In the extracts, Mr Campbell claimed Mr Blair once said that Charles was "screwing us" by making unhelpful interventions on behalf of farmers during the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis.

The former Downing Street director of communications appeared to suggest that Mr Blair raised his concerns with the Queen during one of his regular audiences, though Mr Campbell noted that he "didn't push too hard".

And Mr Campbell said that, while remaining publicly supportive of the Prince, Mr Blair told Charles in private that there were "limits to the extent to which they could play politics with him".

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