Prince Andrew opens door for a slimmed-down monarchy

Prince Andrew opens door for a slimmed-down monarchy
Britain’s Prince Andrew at a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Bruges last September. Picture: John Thys

Prince Andrew’s current troubles may accelerate a process that Prince Charles has been pushing for for years: a leaner British royal family, writes Alex Webb

Prince Andrew’s BBC interview about his ties to Jeffrey Epstein was excruciating to watch — especially, no doubt, for the victims of the deceased financier.

It was so bad that he may unwittingly have provided the next generation of Britain’s monarchy the justification to streamline.

Prince Andrew’s effort to explain his friendship with the convicted paedophile came across as insensitive, ignorant, pig-headed and out of touch.

He revealed a litany of shortcomings longer than his official title — His Royal Highness The Prince Andrew Albert Christian Edward, Duke of York, Earl of Inverness, Baron Killyleagh, Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, Canadian Forces Decoration, Aide-de-Camp to Her Majesty. He also neglected to express a shred of sympathy for Epstein’s targets.

The prince’s strong denial of claims that he’d had sex with one of the hedge fund manager’s alleged teenage trafficking victims was accompanied by strange details about his inability to sweat and his visit to a Pizza Express restaurant.

His troubles will probably accelerate a process that his elder brother Charles has been pushing for years: the drive for a leaner Royal Family.

By focusing on a core group of royals in the direct line of succession, this thinking goes, the monarchy would be better able to sidestep concerns about lavish use of public funds when so many ordinary families in Britain are being squeezed beyond endurance.

It might also prevent errant royals from publicly pursuing their own course at a time when an ageing Queen Elizabeth II may be less able to keep her clan in check.

Andrew’s situation potentially has echoes in the business world, where an executive’s missteps can accelerate an ouster already in the works.

Carlos Ghosn was pushed out of Nissan and Renault over allegations of improper use of funds, just as Japanese powerbrokers feared he was going to engineer a merger of the two firms.

Martin Sorrell stepped down as chief executive of WPP Plc last year amid investigations into personal misconduct, just as concerns were mounting about his management of the firm. Both deny the allegations.

Evidence of Charles’s efforts to forge a “slimmed-down monarchy,” as the Daily Mail newspaper called it, first surfaced at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012.

The main participants in the festivities were the Queen herself, Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Prince William and his spouse Catherine, and Prince Harry.

Just those five royals stood alongside the Queen on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to take in the climactic fly-past by the Royal Air Force.

A decade previously, at the Golden Jubilee, some two-dozen filled the balcony.

Prince Andrew opens door for a slimmed-down monarchy

Unlike his sister Princess Anne, who sought no titles or royal roles for her own progeny, Prince Andrew’s two daughters were made princesses, and he’s reportedly been eager for them to have royal roles and residences.

Andrew’s association with Epstein, which he said had provided opportunities “to learn,” appears to have accelerated his marginalisation even without the direct intervention of his elder brother or mother.

KPMG has already dropped sponsorship of his entrepreneurship initiative, while students at England’s University of Huddersfield passed a motion on Monday lobbying him to resign the institution’s chancellorship.

A charity of which he is patron, the Outward Bound Trust, plans to discuss “the issues raised” by the interview.

Unlike a business executive, the prince can’t exactly step down, nor is it likely that his titles would be taken from him should he be caught up in the ongoing legal fallout from the Epstein case. But if he takes on fewer public roles, he’ll be eligible for less financial support from the Sovereign Grant: a pot of public money that helps fund the work the royals do on behalf of the nation.

The monarchy doesn’t execute its family members these days, but Andrew has offered his critics plenty of rope.

Alex Webb is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Europe’s technology, media and communications industries.

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