Voices: Prince Charles’s Rwanda comments are dangerous for the royal family – private or not

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He may have been merely expressing a humanitarian view, but this leak proves that his lips must remain sealed  (PA)
He may have been merely expressing a humanitarian view, but this leak proves that his lips must remain sealed (PA)

“The Rwanda thingie, for example. It really is…what’s the word?…” “‘Appalling’, sir?” “Ah, yes, Sir Alan. It really is appalling, beyond disappointing. I’m not impressed with their direction of travel. Which is sending refugees as far as possible south, and at a very great speed”.

Such is the caricature of the Prince of Wales, superbly drawn by Spitting Image, Harry Enfield in The Windsors, and the “Heir of Sorrows” series in Private Eye. We’ve grown accustomed to this frankly strange man. Concerned, tortured even; slightly cranky, materialistically spoiled but emotionally starved; eccentric (he supposedly talks to his plants), environmentally radical, architecturally conservative, confused private life, awful schooldays, runs his Aston Martin on white wine... mostly adding to the gaiety of the nation.

Even so, for a time, after the death of Diana in 1997, he and Camilla Parker Bowles, were as great a mortal threat to the institution as anything since the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936, the philandering of the future Edward VII, or the public revulsion at the excesses of the Prince Regent 200 years before (three other troublesome princes of Wales).

The “wars of the Wales” in the 1990s, “tampongate”, the Bashir-Diana interview; it was the public’s turn to be appalled by Charles. Since then we’ve mellowed about the old booby, to the point where we’re apparently content to accept his once-mistress as “Queen Camilla”. Yet he is making trouble for himself and “mummy” once again, and, well, it really is appalling.

It may well not be his fault that his private views on the treatment of asylum seekers have been made public. You’d have to doubt he’d want his options splashed all over the media, inviting hostile remarks from the hard-hearted hard right. He may have been merely expressing a humanitarian view, not directly political, and between people he had a right to trust, perhaps friends, but somehow it has been leaked, accidentally or otherwise, and look where we are. Priti Patel must be even angrier than usual. He’s upset Nigel Farage, who has virtually turned republican on Twitter: “Unless Prince Charles wants to destroy the monarchy he had better shut up fast.”

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Whether he’s right or wrong, a period of silence, private and public, from the heir to the throne would be welcome. For his own good, and that of the House of Windsor, he needs to stay out of controversy, and, unless those he is speaking to are completely trustworthy, then his lips must be sealed, and especially as the era of Charles III nears.

Princes of Wales have no real role and historically have had to content themselves with womanising, gluttony and more harmless hobbies such as collecting postage stamps. This Prince of Wales, who, at 73, is the oldest apprentice in the world, has long taken it upon himself to “speak out” on issues that were considered “safe”. Yet they were and are still controversial.

He even got away with that phase of writing to Tony Blair’s ministers about matters that concerned him greatly, though they too were relatively “safe”, such as the plight of the Patagonian toothfish. His “spidery handwriting” added to the air of a dotty chap making a few random points about the appalling world we live in.

But if the Charles keeps his views to himself and a few trusted advisers, and doesn’t ever mention them to the people who matter, then what is the point of the Prince of Wales? That’s probably a question that should be left unanswered. At any rate Charles has already indicated that he will be far more circumspect as monarch.

The good news, one hopes, is that soon enough the Prince of Wales will be monarch, and he can unburden himself, on a weekly basis, with the prime minister himself (or herself), in their scheduled informal “audience”. It’s hard to say who would find these encounters more uncomfortable. Boris Johnson doesn’t like to be criticised or even offered unpalatable advice, and hasn’t really moved on from the view he took at age eight, of wanting to be world king.

Charles III, a real king, isn’t quite on the same wavelength as his prime minister (assuming Johnson lasts into the new reign), with the possible exception of climate change, Cop26 and all that. Charles may think he’s talking to a brick wall, and Johnson may think his views are interesting but irrelevant.

More than that, though, how can Charles trust Boris not to gossip about their little chats the minute he gets back to his talkative cronies on Downing Street? And if he cannot confide to his own prime minister, who can Charles turn to for advice and to influence the world? It really is – yes – appalling.

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