Charles in charge?

 

So, it is official. The Prince of Wales has every right - and even a duty - to dash off letters to government ministers demanding they do this, that and the other.

We know so because the government's chief legal officer, the attorney general, says so.

Dominic Grieve says that if the Queen has a constitutional duty to consult, encourage and warn ministers, then so too should her successor. What some see as unconstitutional meddling or even inappropriate lobbying, Mr Grieve sees as training for kingship and a constitutional duty.

In other words, brace yourself Whitehall! It is now legitimate for Prince Charles to bombard ministers with what are known as his "black spider" letters on account of his creative penmanship.

Harry, Beatrice, Eugenie?

We know all this because the attorney general has blocked the publication of a raft of letters that Prince Charles wrote to seven government departments between 1 September 2004 and 1 April 2005. He said these letters revealed the Prince's "most deeply held views", they were "particularly frank" and "would potentially have undermined his position of political neutrality".

The Guardian newspaper wanted them published - and a freedom of information tribunal agreed that they should be - because there was a public interest in doing so, on grounds of transparency, better understanding of relations between government and the monarchy, and those allegations of inappropriate lobbying by the Prince on health, architecture and other policy.

But the attorney overturned the tribunal's ruling, saying publication of these letters would "forfeit his position of political neutrality" and would as such "be seriously damaging to his role as a future monarch".

He concluded: "I consider that such correspondence enables the Prince of Wales better to understand the business of government; strengthens his relations with ministers; and enables him to make points which he would have a right (and arguably a duty) to make as monarch."

All this raises a rather interesting question: where do you draw the line? If Prince Charles can engage in what Mr Grieve calls "advocacy correspondence", why not Prince William too? The Duke of Cambridge is clearly preparing to be monarch one day. And why not throw in Harry just to be on the safe side? Or even the princesses Beatrice and Eugenie?

 
James Landale Article written by James Landale James Landale Deputy political editor

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