While dismayed MPs were uneasy over pronouncing on a matter of personal tragedy between the Prince and Princess of Wales, many believed that a divorce would draw a line under a public relations slanging match that risked the monarchy losing its credibility.
One respected member of the executive of the 1922 backbench committee of Tory MPs, who preferred to remain anonymous, said: 'I think it has harmed the institution of the monarchy. I think he (Prince Charles) should get on with his job of carrying out public duties and give no further personal statements.
'The marriage is a farce. I hope they will realise that there is no point to the marriage.'
Menzies Campbell, a QC and the Liberal Democrats' foreign affairs spokesman, was one of several MPs who felt the constant stream of publications highlighting the details of the couple's private lives was more damaging to the future king than a divorce.
He said: 'A clean break is much to be preferred. This public relations assault is much more damaging than anything Prince Philip might have said to Prince Charles on the day he went to Gordonstoun. The Prime Minister should draw this to the attention of the sovereign.'
Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, who is accompanying the Queen on her visit to Russia, said: 'I am worried about the way in which chattering people concerned with headlines and mass circulation do chip away at our institutions in this country, of which the monarchy is perhaps the most important and in a way the most vulnerable.'
Some MPs appeared to take a different view. One said the Prince had 'been bloody stupid. To harm his wife, mother and father in one publication takes some doing'.
Number 10 insisted yesterday that the constitutional position was identical to that set out by the Prime Minister in his December 1992 statement to the House of Commons that the couple had separated. On that occasion there were gasps of disbelief as Mr Major insisted that there was 'no reason why the Princess of Wales should not be crowned in due course'.
While a divorce could dramatically alter the Princess of Wales's personal future, there appears to be no legal impediment to a divorced Prince Charles becoming king. A Cabinet source suggested that because public opinion was so bound up with the conventions of Britain's unwritten constitution, any second wife would probably have to be chosen with care.
Further questions could be raised about the Prince's position as future Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
Labour maintained an official silence, although Graham Allen, its constitutional spokesman, said the Royal Family was unlikely to be included in the party's review of the constitution.Reuse content