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: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

Lina Khatib
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor