Prince Andrew's latest deal with Kazakh businessman proves need for better regulation

Andrew Blick Stuart Weir
29 May 2008

Andrew Blick and Stuart Weir (Democratic Audit): On the principle that the devil makes work for idle hands, it seems a good idea to find a role in life for Prince Andrew whose playboy tendencies and visit to School Dinners, a kind of pre-lapdance place with waitresses in St Trinian’s gear have made the tabloid press. Since 2001 Prince Andrew has been the unpaid UK ‘Special Representative for International Trade and Investment’, another of those foreign appointments like Lord Levy’s which the government can hand out under royal prerogative powers and which escape scrutiny.

Andrew’s website boasts how he attends an average of ‘5.6 trade/business related engagements a week’; all to further UK commercial interests; and claims that he has helped secure a number of big deals.

A useful exploitation of our almost unique Royal brand? Perhaps, but there are problems. First there has been a steady drip of stories about how his foreign visits – funded by a pretty exclusive quango, UK Trade and Investment, and the Department of Transport (in other words, us) – often seem to provide the Prince with an opportunity to take holidays and work on his golf handicap. His list of engagements for 2004 described how he attended ‘a UK Trade and Investment reception during the US Masters’.

Now it has emerged that his house, Sunninghill – a 1986 marriage gift from the Queen – has been sold for about £3 million over the odds to an energy magnate from Kazakhstan, a country he has visited on official business three times since 2003, and on more occasions in private. There are of course plenty of people who will be unduly generous to the rich or famous simply for the prestige which may attach to the ‘friendship’. But by the same token, it behoves those who are engaged on public business not to accept favours (if this is, as it seems, what has happened in this case). It is worth remarking that neither Andrew nor Levy were subject to the same regulation and accountability as regular civil servants nor ministers.

The international objectives of the UK include, in theory at least, a strong ethical dimension; and the public believe that this is an important aspect of our foreign policy. But the terms of reference for the Prince are exclusively about securing commercial advantage for the UK (or rather, firms that purport to be ‘British’). Kazakhstan itself has a dubious human rights record and an inventory of countries whose business he has courted – including China and various Middle East states – reads more like an Amnesty International blacklist. In 2004, at a business do in in Moscow, he praised Tsar Ivan the Terrible as an ‘insightful’ leader, for his focus on trade, prosperity and security.

While it is generous of the Prince to provide his services to the nation for free, it is time to subject our ‘Special Representative’ to the same degree of accountability we have a right to expect of all such envoys. His objectives, along with those of UK Trade and Investment as a whole, need to be fully aligned with UK human rights obligations; and all his visits, expenses, contacts and business dealings have to be properly regulated and answered for. If such controls are unacceptable to the Prince, then he should promptly be relieved of his unpaid role, allowing him even more time to spend working on his swing (and possibly swinging).

Is there an MP who may be interested in making a few FOI inquiries?

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