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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Why Prince Charles' letters had to be published

I very much welcome the decision of the Supreme Court that letters written by Prince Charles to Ministers should be published.

In essence their ruling underlines the fact that because of his position the heir to the throne cannot act as if he were a private citizen. He is not and never has been a private citizen. That much is clear from the influence he is able to exercise in Government and beyond.

More importantly, the court has also re-established the principle that an unelected person should not have undue influence on elected Government Ministers without that influence being subject to public scrutiny. To do otherwise would have subverted the basis of our constitution and the democratic will of the people.

Nor can it be argued that Ministers and civil servants would not have been influenced by his view. Consider this passage from the Times:

One hearing in 2010 was told tha​t Prince Charles had expressed his views to Harold Wilson, then prime minister, on the plight of Atlantic salmon.

Paul Richards, a former adviser to Hazel Blears, the former communities secretary, claimed that when one “black spider” letter arrived, “it was treated with great reverence and went straight to the top of the pile in the red box containing the minister’s business for the day, over and above letters from other ministers and even cabinet papers”.
Mr Richards also claimed that Charles had written to Yvette Cooper about the design of eco-towns, and complained to Ed Balls, then education secretary, over changes to the primary school syllabus.

Some of the prince’s earlier letters have also been leaked, most notably a 2002 missive to Tony Blair in which he told the then prime minister, at the height of the debate over the fox-hunting ban, that he agreed with farmers who believed they were victimised more than “blacks or gays”.

The leak prompted St James’s Palace to take the unusual step of issuing a statement defending the prince’s letter writing, saying: “The Prince of Wales … believes part of his role must be to highlight views in danger of not being heard.

“This role can only be fulfilled properly if complete confidentiality is maintained. It is not about exerting undue pressure or campaigning privately.”

I think we need to take that last statement under advisement. After all Prince Charles is not the reigning monarch, nor is he expressing view to the Prime Minister in a private hearing once a week. Instead he has been actively seeking to influence Ministers and officials at all levels over a substantial period of time.

The damage that Prince Charles could do to the independence of the Monarchy through this activity is best summed up by one of his defenders, the previous Attorney General, Dominic Grieve:

Any perception that Charles had disagreed with the government of the day, Mr Grieve argued, “would be seriously damaging to his role as future monarch because, if he forfeits his position of political neutrality as heir to the throne, he cannot easily recover it when he is king”.

The fact is that he consistently wrote disagreeing with the government of the day, an act that was both reckless and an abuse of his position in my view.
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