Prince Andrew - The Unanswered Questions

The recent clash of events over Prince Andrew amply demonstrates that royalty should stay out of business, and they should equally stay out of the business of Government.

In the end, the odds were overwhelmingly against Prince Andrew getting away with it. Too many questions, and not enough answers, have dogged his footsteps for too long. As Britain's roving Trade Ambassador, he had to go. But the question remains - why was he appointed in the first place?

His was a job with no parallel in the British establishment. Answerable to nobody, unrequired to file reports of his activities, the benefits of his expensive hops around the globe never quantified on paper or in Parliament, his expenses parcelled out among Government departments so as to become virtually invisible, Andrew looks at this juncture to have been on a glorious freebie for the past decade.

A year ago, I made a very determined attempt to discover just what it was that he did on behalf of his country. Nobody - not Buckingham Palace, nor the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, nor the Foreign Office, all of whom have some responsibility in answering for his activities abroad - were prepared to give an answer.

At the time, it was the reputation of Prince Andrew's ex-wife Sarah which was swinging in the wind. Unfrocked by the News of the World (yes, they did get some things right) she was filmed claiming she could gain access to her husband for businessmen if they coughed up £500,000.

The offer came so readily, it seemed to some observers, she must have done it before. The question therefore remained - had she on a previous occasion been successful in making business introductions to her husband, our roving Trade Ambassador, in return for cash?

This question remains on the table, unanswered. With Andrew's resignation from his controversial post there will, I imagine, be an almighty whirring of shredding machines in Whitehall and beyond as the minutes and the memos bearing his name disappear forever. But certainly at the time, when hope was young, Andrew felt his future was secure. Therefore it seemed sensible to ask whether those Government departments responsible for his globe-trotting has asked him whether, in fact, he had, to the best of his knowledge, entertained businessmen who had been introduced to him by the Duchess of York?

I was greeted by a deafening silence. But, in failing to get an answer to this fundamental, I did learn quite a lot of other things about the Queen's second son, and the job he held down on behalf of us all.

First, it was clear that though his nominal boss in Government was Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, no discussions on the matter had taken place between the two men. Cable's junior minister Mark Prisk similarly seemed blithely uninterested in whether Britain's most high-profile trade figure had blotted his copybook.

All along the way, I was deadballed by spokesmen for Government departments. Then, all of a sudden, I found myself on the receiving end of a call from a smooth-voiced PR called James Henderson, asking whether there was anything he could to be of assistance?

Now this was interesting. I had put questions only to Government departments. Now I had someone employed by a large commercial practice sticking his oar in, apparently to be of as much help as he could. Who told him to call me? What had he got to say that government-paid officials couldn't?

In time the realisation dawned that nobody - nobody - had overall control of Prince Andrew. Surrounded by heavy security, supported by a phalanx of government and non-government officials, he was allowed to roam free, creating his own luxurious agenda and going where he pleased. If the mighty lure of Kazakhstan, resistable to most it has to be said, was his thing - then why not go there. And again, and again? Nobody was going to ask why.

His visits on behalf of the United Kingdom were subject to approval by the so-called 'Royal Visits Committee' - but in half a lifetime of reporting on the royals, I never heard of such a body, and when I asked who sat on the committee, nobody could or would give me an answer.

One former civil servant enlightened me, but not much, by remarking in an unguarded moment, "There appears to be very little official scrutiny of his activities, but a lot of secrecy. That's very odd for such a high-profile figure."

Only time will tell whether Andrew's colossally stupid involvement with paedophile Jeffrey Epstein and its so far unforeseen consequences were the trigger to his downfall, or whether exasperated mandarins finally found the courage to close their departmental purse-strings on his Class 1 travel.

The Queen, sensitive to public opinion in most regards, wrong-footed it at the time of the Epstein disclosures by awarding her son just about the biggest gong it is within her gift to give - the KCVO - at a time when a little humility might have been more appropriate. The prince is already a Knight of the Garter, the world's oldest order of chivalry. It would appear that his efforts on the nation's behalf have been superhuman, to have earned all that by the age of 51.

The recent clash of events over Prince Andrew amply demonstrates that royalty should stay out of business, and they should equally stay out of the business of Government. Prince Andrew's appointment as roving ambassador a decade ago was in response to the Royal Navy suddenly, and quite determinedly, telling him he was no longer needed.

A shame, perhaps, he was unable to endear himself to his senior officers sufficiently for them to beg him to stay on board. Hindsight is a popular word this week.


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