Quids In

Are Will and Kate Becoming Post-Brexit Business Ambassadors for Britain?

After the U.K.’s dramatic vote to leave the European Union, the royals are reportedly being lined up to convince the rest of the world to trade with Britain.

Chris Wattie / Reuters

Kate Middleton engaged in her first solo overseas royal engagement Tuesday.

A mere five and a half years after she married Prince William in a dazzling ceremony at Westminster Abbey, Duchess Kate finally felt confident enough to board a flight on her own.

She went to the Netherlands, where she met with the powerless King Willem-Alexander of that country before going to the national art gallery, followed by a visit to a community center where she chaired a discussion on the mental health of teenagers, currently a favored cause, before flying back home on a scheduled British Airways flight to London (ah, the thriftiness). As the Daily Mail snarkily but accurately observed, she came on board dressed exactly like a pastiche of a flight attendant.

It was certainly a busy day, and came a mere week after Kate had got back from a week-long trip to Canada.

The stated purpose of the trip was Kate’s attendance at the opening of a remarkable new exhibition of Dutch Old Masters loaned to the country’s national gallery by the queen, “At Home in Holland: Vermeer and His Contemporaries From the British Royal Collection.”

However, conspiracy theorists in sections of the pro-Brexit British media—the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and the Express, to name a few—were quick to pick up on and disseminate the notion that Kate’s visit was actually a sort of test run for a new stealth campaign that would involve the royals acting as roving international post-Brexit love-bombers, the idea apparently being that the promise of a visit by Kate Middleton wearing the queen’s earrings would somehow convince the Dutch government to do business with the U.K.

The Mail noted, “Kate has been heralded as a ‘secret weapon’ for U.K. diplomacy as the country faces Brexit negotiations,” while the Telegraph argued ahead of the trip that Kate would “be a ‘potent force’ in Britain’s bridge-building with EU countries as Brexit looms.”

The Telegraph story was based on a quotation, attributed to a “recently-retired British ambassador, who spoke on condition of anonymity.”

The mysterious diplomat’s actual quote, when taken in context, was rather less emphatic than the Telegraph’s introduction made out, and ran as follows: “We need to start beefing up our bilateral relationships with EU countries. Those links need to become stronger and the Royal family is a very potent force in that exercise. It would not surprise me if we see more trips to Europe by members of the Royal family because there are 27 countries and we will want to let them know that we haven’t left the scene.”

The Telegraph’s premonition that Kate’s visit to the Netherlands was actually some kind of secret business trip was justified on the day by the presence of the queen’s private secretary, Sir Christopher Geidt, among Kate’s entourage.

Certainly it was very unusual for Sir Christopher—a savvy political operator who is credited with ensuring that Prince Charles will take over from the queen as titular head of the Commonwealth—to accompany the duchess.

Buckingham Palace said that Geidt was attending in his capacity as a trustee of the Royal Collection, the body which owns the artworks on display, but many conspiracy theorists were quick to contend that Geidt was really there in a kind of Tyrion Lannister, hand of the king-type role, as a secret adviser to the Duchess.

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According to this strain of opinion, Kate’s visit was a portent of the crucial role that the royal family will have in helping to safeguard the U.K.’s relations with its European neighbors as Brexit becomes a reality in the coming years.

There is a certain logic to the argument. After all, the official reasoning behind all international royal engagements is that they foster positive relationships between the U.K. and the country being visited, while also offering an opportunity to promote British interests abroad, while quietly selling the U.K. as a sophisticated tourist destination.

But whatever benefit Kate Middleton going to Holland might bring to the U.K. economy, it’s hard to imagine it would ever be an effective substitute for a common market.

The allegedly remarkable importance of the royals in our rosy post-Brexit future has been a line relentlessly sold by the pro-Brexit media for some time now.

The Telegraph has probably been the most entertaining of these voices, if you enjoy the theatre of the absurd.

The newspaper has rejoiced at the Brexit result.

Despite some dissenting voices, especially in the business pages, which, even the most ideological of editors and owners would concede need to retain some semblance of credibility on financial issues, the Telegraph has tried hard to convince its readers—typically older, whiter and wealthier than the general British population—that Brexit will be a wonderful new dawn, in which we will be free not only to repudiate undesirable immigrants from our shores but also joyfully purchase bananas in pounds and ounces.

Last month the Telegraph came up with their big idea; a campaign to re-launch the royal yacht Britannia!

Britannia, the luxurious royal yacht on which the royal family enjoyed many a splendid holiday, was retired by Tony Blair’s government in 1997. The queen was cross and upset, going so far as to shed a tear—and allegedly blackball Blair from William’s wedding 14 years later.

The Telegraph wheeled out a number of obliging old duffers and obscure Tory MPs to say what a brilliant idea this was. The biggest name was Michael Heseltine, who told the paper, “She was a symbol of many things about this country we have now not got.”

The royal yacht is portrayed by the Telegraph’s campaign as a wonderful mechanism by which to seduce foreign leaders and decision makers, but the truth is that Britannia was always much more about being a luxurious floating fortress for the royals, an environment they could completely control. The queen once said of the yacht, “Britannia is the one place I can truly relax.”

In an illustration of just how the success of the Brexit movement has emboldened politicians to market self-interested xenophobia as fiscally responsible patriotism, one MP, Gerald Howarth, a former defense minister, argued that money “should be diverted from the annual aid budget and spent on a £120 million successor to the royal yacht.”

Unfortuantely, that the absurd plan to revive Britannia should have found so many backers, apparently intoxicated by the heady brew of royalty, patriotism and arrogance is not entirely surprising, when you consider that many of the same people think it’s a good idea to replace a long-standing and successful continental trade deal with the undoubted charms of Kate Middleton.