Following the revelation that Tony Blair believed the Prince of Wales meddled in sensitive policy areas during the last Labour government, it has emerged that the prince has had private meetings with at least seven ministers since the coalition came to power.
Prince Charles has seen five cabinet ministers – the chancellor, George Osborne, the education secretary, Michael Gove, the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, the environment secretary, Caroline Spelman, and Andrew Mitchell, the international development secretary. He met them all at his Clarence House residence, the Mail on Sunday reported following the paper’s freedom of information request.
The prince met Spelman twice to discuss the issue of “tree health”. In addition, he had private meetings at Clarence House with the housing minister, Grant Shapps, and the minister for children and families, Tim Loughton. At public events he has also met the prisoners minister, Crispin Blunt, the fisheries minister, Richard Benyon, and the climate minister, Greg Barker, the report added.
The scale of the royal’s interaction with government – the period concerned covers only until late March – will alarm critics who believe that Charles is flouting his neutral constitutional role as heir to the throne in order to lobby for subjects that are close to his heart, notably climate change, the environment and traditional architecture.
In extracts from Alastair Campbell’s diaries, published in the Guardian on Saturday, it emerged that Blair believed Charles overstepped the mark with his political interventions. Campbell wrote of one meeting, in 1999, between Blair and Charles: “While publicly we stayed supportive, TB said Charles had to understand there were limits to the extent to which they could play politics with him.”
Charles’s interventionism has also been criticised elsewhere. Last year a high-court judge, ruling in a business dispute over the Chelsea barracks housing development, labelled the prince’s lobbying against a planned modernist design for the site as “unexpected and unwelcome”.
The Mail on Sunday was told that the prince met Barker twice, while Benyon had talks with both Charles and Benet Northcote, a senior member of his staff.
Some departments gave brief details of discussed subjects but most cited new freedom of information rules which protect the royal family from much scrutiny.
Shapps told the newspaper there was nothing alarming about his discussions with Charles: ‘It is … a well-established constitutional doctrine that the heir to the throne has a right to be instructed in the business of government in preparation for the time when he will be the sovereign.”
A Clarence House statement said: “In his role as heir the Prince of Wales has a duty to meet and communicate regularly with government ministers.”
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