Leading article: From royal asset to national liability

Related Topics

To convinced republicans, the Duke of York's official role flying the flag for British companies abroad has always been ridiculous and demeaning for the country.

But to those who regarded the monarchy as, on balance, a benefit for Britain, it seemed to make sense to put royals such as Prince Andrew to some use. This was surely better than taxpayers paying for them to do nothing but cavort on yachts and shoot grouse. Rather an ambassador than a playboy, went the logic.

This newspaper has tended to lean towards the latter, pragmatic, view. If we are going to have a Royal Family, it makes sense to make them as useful as possible. But that was dependent on the royal ambassador in question upholding Britain's good reputation abroad. Revelations in recent days about the Prince's friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, a wealthy American financier who was convicted in 2008 of soliciting a minor for prostitution, have prompted even many normally enthusiastic royalists to question whether he is right for this job.

No one should be found guilty by association; not even a prince. But this thunderbolt did not come out of a clear blue sky. There have been complaints for several years about the lavish nature of the Prince's taxpayer-funded trips abroad to support British firms. He has been accused of using these missions to help sell his mansion in Surrey (which was eventually sold to a Kazakh billionaire for £3m more than the asking price). Last year the Prince's former wife Sarah, Duchess of York, was caught by a newspaper attempting to sell access to the trade ambassador to foreign businessmen. This track record means that the Prince does not have a huge store of goodwill to fall back on now.

Ministers, from the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, have been taking to the airwaves in recent days to emphasise what a good job the Prince has done for British companies. But there is no way of quantifying how much value he brings. Many of the trade deals would probably have been signed anyway.

In some ways, the Prince's defenders do have a point when they say he is being unfairly vilified. One of the criticisms of the Prince is that he has met Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's son, Saif, several times since 2007. But until very recently it was official government policy to hug the Libyan regime close. The Prince was merely doing what was expected of him. It would indeed be ridiculous to criticise Andrew for such connections while ignoring the policy set by both this Government and its predecessor.

Yet it would also be wrong to characterise the Prince as merely a harmless and innocent puppet. It was buried in last year's WikiLeaks blizzard, but one of the revelations from the leaked US embassy cables was that, in 2008, the Prince demanded a special briefing from the Serious Fraud Office over its investigation into BAE Systems, which was accused of paying bribes to secure the al-Yamamah arms deal with the Saudi Arabian government. The Prince later accused the SFO of "idiocy", in front of a senior US diplomat, for pursuing the case.

This was a scandal relating to something much more serious than the question of the Prince's unsavoury friends. This was an abuse of his position; an apparent attempt to interfere in the proper functioning of the rule of law.

An ambassador with a compromised reputation is ineffective; an ambassador who attempts to get involved in politics is positively dangerous. Prince Andrew seems to tick both boxes. And that means it is time for the Duke of York to march down the hill and out of official life.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager - Part Time

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital agency based in Ashford, Ke...

Recruitment Genius: Sales and Marketing Executive

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent