The 14 times the Royal Family have been dragged into politics
King Charles’ role in NI deal discussed by Nigel Farage
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King Charles was embroiled in political controversy this week when he hosted European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at Windsor Castle just hours after Rishi Sunak signed the controversial Brexit deal with her – but it’s not an isolated incident. The Royal Family has often been accused of getting too involved in politics, with even the late Queen coming in for criticism. Here our examples show it is a difficulty the family has faced since before the Second World War.
1938 Munich Agreement
After the signing of the 1938 Munich Agreement the King and Queen invited prime minister Neville Chamberlain onto the balcony of Buckingham Palace to celebrate the apparent achievement of “peace in our time”.
Siding with the prime minister so publicly on a policy without universal agreement was seen as a huge error of judgement and a major intervention from the monarch. The Queen Mother later admitted the balcony celebration was a mistake.
Edward Heath embroiled the Queen into politics as Britain moved towards membership of the European Economic Community (EEC) by initiating a state visit to France and offering the Germans a visit to Buckingham Palace shortly thereafter.
Her trip to Paris in May 1972 was branded “ill-advised” by Euro-sceptics given that the EEC accession was still going through Parliament. During the visit, the Government repeatedly tried to make her vocally support the EEC, but Palace aides watered down such declarations.
In 1986, the Sunday Times ran a story, “Queen dismayed by ‘uncaring’ Thatcher” that detailed the apparent rift between the monarch and the prime minister over the latter’s refusal to impose strict sanctions on the apartheid regime in South Africa.
It included the claim: “The Queen considers the Prime Minister’s approach often to be uncaring, confrontational and socially divisive.”
The report was highly controversial as the newspaper said the story came from Michael Shea, the Queen’s former press secretary. The Palace denied it.
Diana’s landmine campaigning
Princess Diana’s campaign for a worldwide ban on landmines was criticised as being inherently political. It appeared to endorse Labour’s policy and put John Major in hot water as he said Britain would not support a ban until all countries had signed it.
Diana was outspoken about the need to ban “the plague on earth” and described the UK government’s policy on landmines as “hopeless”.
The Government later signed the Ottawa Treaty in December 1997 – three months after her death – which banned the use of landmines.
Sophie Wessex speaks out
Two years after she married into the royal family, Sophie Wessex was embroiled in a political row. In 2001, recordings were released of damning conversations of the royal criticising then-prime minister Tony Blair, his wife and chancellor Gordon Brown.
The “Sophie tapes” saw her dismiss Brown’s Budget as “pap”, criticise Blair’s attempts to ban fox hunting, and accuse former prime minister John Major of leaking damaging royal information to distract from his political problems.
Charles and his ‘black spider’ memos
Between September 2004 and March 2005 Charles sent secret letters to ministers in an attempt to influence Government policy. The 27 letters, known as “black spider” memos because of his spiral handwriting, were released after a 10-year legal battle to reveal their contents.
The letters revealed the heir to the throne had lobbied the prime minister and other senior ministers on the defence budget, the national curriculum and badger culling.
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In 2012, the BBC’s security correspondent got in hot water for revealing on the radio that the Queen had told him, in a private meeting, she was aghast that radical Islamic cleric Abu Hamza had not been arrested. He was known for airing vehemently anti-British views as imam of Finsbury Park mosque in north London.
Frank Gardner said the monarch had told him she had spoken to a former home secretary about the case. The journalist later apologised for disclosing the private conversation.
The Queen came under fire in 2014 when she expressed the hope that voters “will think very carefully about the future” before the Scottish independence referendum.
She made the comment to a well-wisher as she left Church near her Balmoral estate in Aberdeenshire. Officials insisted it did not breach the monarch’s constitutional impartiality.
Then-prime minister David Cameron later claimed the Queen had “purred down the line” after he informed her of the referendum result.
Queen calls Chinese officials ‘very rude’
The Queen was caught on camera saying Chinese officials were “very rude” during the 2015 state visit by President Xi Jinping.
She was discussing Xi’s trip with Metropolitan police commander Lucy D’Orsi, who was introduced as the officer responsible for security during the visit, when she responded: “Oh, bad luck.” Later, the Queen told her: “They were very rude to the ambassador”.
Proroguing of Parliament
In 2019, the Queen agreed to prorogue Parliament at the height of the Brexit crisis on the advice of her prime minister, Boris Johnson. Tradition dictates that monarchs grant the prime minister his requests.
The decision prompted a fierce backlash as Mr Johnson was accused of using the monarch to stop MPs scrutinising his Brexit plans.
The Supreme Court later ruled that his advice was unlawful and said it was impossible to conclude there had been any reason “let alone a good reason – to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks”.
Harry hits out at Trump
Harry was duped by two Russian hoaxers that he was speaking to climate change activist Greta Thunberg. During the two calls, with one made shortly after Megxit, Harry criticised Donald Trump as having “blood on his hands” over his climate change credentials.
Charles on immigration
Last year, Charles reportedly described the Government’s controversial policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda as “appalling”.
In his Easter message not long afterwarrds, he appeared to firm up this criticism when he referred to the “unutterable tragedy” of those who’ve been “forced to flee their country and seek shelter far from home”.
He said they are “in need of a welcome, of rest, and of kindness”.
Camilla on freedom of speech
Last month, Camilla urged authors to “remain true to your calling” and resist curbs on freedom of expression in an apparent objection to the changes made to Roald Dahl’s books.
A source close to the Queen said she was “shocked and dismayed” that publishers Puffin had made hundreds of changes to the original text of the much-loved children’s books.
The following day, Puffin announced they will publish a collection of the books with unaltered text as well as the new versions.
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