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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album