Voices: The royal family will survive – regardless of what happens to Prince Andrew

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‘The work of the institution of the monarchy is inevitably being disturbed by the case’  (POOL/AFP/Getty)
‘The work of the institution of the monarchy is inevitably being disturbed by the case’ (POOL/AFP/Getty)

Even after the release and publication of the 2009 “settlement agreement” of Virginia Roberts (now Giuffre) and Jeffrey Epstein, there are still many things we do not know about Prince Andrew’s friendship with Epstein, a convicted paedophile, and what (if anything) went on between the Duke of York and Giuffre.

I put it that way because his representatives have denied all the claims, and the Duke himself decided to go on television to clear matters up personally – though, arguably, that Newsnight interview with Emily Maitlis didn’t quite do the trick. Civil legal proceedings are continuing.

Giuffre is suing Prince Andrew for allegedly sexually assaulting her in London, New York and the Virgin Islands when she was a teenager. She is seeking unspecified damages. There is plenty of disputation on the facts, as well as purely legal procedural points about whether she is entitled to bring the claim because of her residency or the “settlement agreement” she reached with Epstein.

Much depends on whether the judge in New York takes the view that this private settlement agreement actually binds his hands necessarily, and particularly whether it relates to actions that may have taken place in the state of Florida only.

The conviction of Ghislaine Maxwell in her criminal case doesn’t have an immediate, direct and automatic bearing on this civil case, although – no doubt – some would say it adds another dimension to the Duke’s problems.

However, to borrow a phrase of Professor Chris Whitty’s in a different context: although there many things we don’t know about these allegations against Prince Andrew, what we do know about them is bad – at least because of their traumatic nature, and in the sense that they are damaging to the monarchy.

After all, Giuffre does claim that she was trafficked by disgraced financier Epstein to have sex with Andrew when she was 17 and a minor under US law. It would, in other words, be better all round if the matter was settled too.

At the moment, the work of the institution of the monarchy is being inevitably disturbed by the case, which is why Andrew “stepped back” from public duties. Now, reportedly, the various regiments where he still holds an honorific position would prefer it if he stood aside.

As the institution, and Prince Charles, faces its future without the Queen, it could do without the words “convicted paedophile” being mentioned in every news bulletin associated with the royal family and the man who will, in due course, be “the king’s brother”.

Given Prince Andrew’s apparent determination to resist the case, and the palace and the Queen (presumably) paying his legal bills, the affair will drag on for some time. As it goes on and on, the details about what did and did not happen will be examined in excruciating detail.

As we see now, lawyers are asking whether Prince Andrew can supply proof of his claim that he cannot sweat because of a rush of adrenaline when his helicopter was shot at in the Falklands War in 1982, with wisecracks about “I bet he’s sweating now” after the Maxwell verdict doing the rounds. There’s also the business about him being in a Pizza Express in Woking on one particular evening.

It seems strange that no one in Woking has ever mentioned the unusual sight of HRH the Duke of York tucking into a Sloppy Giuseppe with his family during the intervening period, but there we are. Recollections may differ, as they say. If it were a criminal case, and Andrew were somehow dragged into a courtroom somewhere and the arguments and the evidence thrashed out, then that would be damaging enough, but would have an element of finality about it, one way or the other – beyond reasonable doubt.

As a civil case, Andrew won’t be found “not guilty” or “guilty” – but a judge will award damages and/or legal costs as appropriate, and on a balance of probabilities, with a lower bar for proof. It won’t end the controversies anyhow, and Andrew’s name will be forever linked with Maxwell and Epstein.

A confidential out-of-court settlement, with some fudge around the question of responsibility, and both sides reserving their position, wouldn’t settle things for good either, but it would end the pain of all concerned. It would certainly seem the best way out for the royal family.

I have a feeling that if the Prince of Wales were fully in charge of things, this would all have been closed down long ago, but he isn’t and so it goes on and on. It isn’t doing the monarchy much good. “We must not let in daylight upon magic” goes the old maxim about the British monarchy, coined by the 19th-century constitutional scholar Walter Bagehot.

As it is, it is a bit of a cliche, itself exposed to a bit too much sunlight from misquotation, so it seems only fair to quote the elegant line in his account of the British constitution in full: “Above all things our royalty is to be reverenced, and if you begin to poke about it you cannot reverence it… Its mystery is its life. We must not let in daylight upon magic.”

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Even in Victorian times, there was royal scandal and gossip; and much, much more since, and yet the institution has survived its exposure to ridicule and generally being poked about by an impertinent press and sometimes scandalised public. Deference has long gone.

It’s been through much, much worse than the Prince Andrew case, and it’ll no doubt survive, whatever happens, because it has a habit of getting through deaths, affairs, divorces, toe-sucking, drink problems, an abdication, court cases, a prurient and intrusive media, phone-hacking, exiles (voluntary and otherwise), tax demands, fires, beheadings, Nazi sympathies, madnesses, a brief republican interlude in the 17th century, gluttony, conspiracy theories about lizard people and all the rest of it.

Prince Andrew isn’t about to succeed where Oliver Cromwell failed – but whatever seat-free magic the Duke used to possess has long since succumbed to a harsh exposure to sunlight.

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