Prince Andrew's thoughts on Brexit are the musings of a tired, middle-aged man – and the more compelling for that

'In my experience businesses that look over the garden fence have gone "Hmm, the grass is not quite as dark and unforgiving as you might expect"… and actually, getting over the fence, there might be some fresh grass out there'


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The Independent Online

I admit to having something of a soft spot for Prince Andrew. Neither as unpredictable as his older brother, nor as predictably beige as his younger, by all accounts he seems to have dealt with divorce, parenting and living in the Royal bubble as best as can be managed. He also appears to be happy to be thrown direct questions and to answer them with, if not a wholly detailed, informed account, then at least in a sort of “man on the Clapham omnibus” manner.

This is unusual for a member of the royals, most of whom have been trained never to stray from a script written by a choreographed team of robots even doing something as simple as reading out the charts on Radio One (stand up Wills and Kate).

I was once at a public event with the Duke of York where he spoke very sensitively and thoughtfully for a long time to a group of school children about a tragic and sudden death of a classmate. So I feel I can balance the opprobrium about him – his expense account and his dodgy friends – alongside an eyewitness account (my own) of him appearing rather decent.

Hence, when I caught him chatting on a BBC news show from Singapore about Brexit, I was intrigued.

What would the former roving business ambassador for the UK say about leaving the EU? You could almost see the cogs going round in his head when he was bowled the question. And being the person he is, Prince Andrew clearly thought he would answer with a straight bat.

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How is the country going to manage Brexit? he was asked. “I have no idea,” came the rather brilliant answer. He then went on a canter around a few pages of Fowler’s English Usage for Business People, kicking off with a “grass is always greener” theme, which he just about got away with.

HRH’s advice for British business is that, while we hitherto had 27 other countries to play with, we now have the entire world. Hence it might be a good idea (stay with me here) to not just look over the garden fence at the neighbouring grass, but actually climb it and run about in the garden.

“In my experience,” he said, “businesses that look over the garden fence have gone ‘Hmm, the grass is not quite as dark and unforgiving as you might expect’… and actually, getting over the fence, there might be some fresh grass out there’.”

Having exhausted the grass and fence analogy, the Duke then tried out the glass half-empty metaphor instead: “You can either look at it as a glass half-empty, which is ‘Oh my God why have we done this’, or you can look at it as a glass half-full,” he said, with rather less conviction, followed swiftly by the idea that when one door shuts, another opens, capped with a “the world is your oyster” flourish.

It was a banquet of business metaphors, albeit one which was sitting on an uncertain bed of nails. From someone who sounded very much like a Remainer.

“There is going to be uncertainty and difficulty and upheaval over the next few years…” he finished. “Whilst this all plays out, and I have no idea how it will play out.”

Stable and strong is not the HRH viewpoint on the future for Team GB, it seems. But at least the viewpoint seemed quite honest, and I saluted him for having a go.

I also saluted him for looking like exactly what he is: a rather tired middle aged man in the middle of a conference on the other side of the world. The presenter who interviewed him, meanwhile, looked like someone who had come out of a time warp experiment conducted in the mid-1950s. I know who I was listening to.