Prince William has been drawn into a controversy about royal access to the innermost secrets of government after it was revealed that the young royal—who allegedly works fulltime as a helicopter pilot—and his father, Prince Charles, are privy to intimate details of government, including top-secret and confidential proposals for new legislation.
While Charles’s receipt of the documents is covered by an official rulebook, which has been made public after a three-year Freedom of Information battle, Prince William’s access to the secret papers appears to be an entirely ad-hoc affair.
Graham Smith, the chief executive of the anti-monarchy group Republic, described the situation as a “free for all.”
The documents sent “routinely” to Charles, who is well known for his inability to keep his views to himself—and “occasionally” passed to William—are only released to the public after a span of 30 years have elapsed since they were drawn up.
The top-secret documents, known as Cabinet Memoranda, give Charles and his son a previously unimagined level of access to the inner workings of government.
Indeed, the memoranda Charles and William receive are circulated to secretaries of state (heads of government departments), but mere “ministers of state” are not allowed to see them.
This means Charles is as well-briefed as the most powerful elected politicians in the country—a bizarre situation when you consider that the king or queen in a constitutional monarchy is supposed to be strictly non-political.
The news of Charles’s access came after the cabinet office lost a three-year Freedom of Information battle with Republic, and was forced to publish the “precedent book,” which until now has been kept in a locked cupboard inside the Cabinet Office.
The book revealed that Charles has been secretly receiving briefings from the highest levels of government for decades.
The news was met with little surprise by most Brits, as Prince Charles has a long reputation for “meddling” in the affairs of government.
William’s completely unauthorized involvement, however, may change the perception of the matter significantly and trigger full-blown outrage.
William’s access was reported by the BBC, which claimed to have learned that he “occasionally receives copies of confidential cabinet documents.”
A Cabinet Office spokesman confirmed the BBC story by saying, that as a future heir to the throne, it was “appropriate that (William) is regularly briefed on government business.”
Of Prince William’s access, Smith said: “There is no mention of this access in the documents released this week. It appears to be a free for all.
“We support Labor’s call for an inquiry, so we can know how much information is being handed to which royals.”
The precedent book itself says of the secret papers, “The need for secrecy calls for special care in circulating or handling.”
It seems highly probable that the material is being passed to William at the behest of Prince Charles, who—there can be little doubt—favors an ‘activist’ monarchy.
Republic, which has long used Charles’s vast inherited wealth and the opacity of his finances as a campaigning focus, has also, somewhat mischievously, claimed that Charles would be able to benefit from “access to market sensitive information without any need to disclose his financial interests.”
There has also been speculation that Charles uses the information to enable him to intervene with ministers on new policy proposals before parliament or the public are aware of their existence.
Charles’s defenders have been quick to leap to his defense.
Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames, a close friend of Charles, told the Daily Telegraph: “I think the Prince of Wales quite rightly receives these papers as he is going to be one day king of England. It is important that he should be familiar with state business—which he is—and it is a very sensible and entirely correct thing to do.”
They are also quick to point out that the last time a Freedom of Information battle was won by the press—when Charles was accused of “meddling” in policy via his “black spider” memos to government ministers—the resulting letters were pretty tame fare, arguing for greater protection for sea birds, better gear for the army, and more help for organic farmers, among other matters.
There was a perhaps slightly naive suggestion that hospitals should serve locally grown food, and an arrogant tone of entitlement, but, talk it up as they did, it was hardly the great scoop The Guardian, which conducted the fight, might have hoped for.
The fact is that despite years of trying, no one has ever been able to nail Charles for lobbying for anything remotely controversial or unpleasant. There is no smoking gun.
Opponents of the monarchy say the reason for this is very simple: A law introduced in 2010 granted the royal household a total exemption from freedom of information rules, so no more of Charles’s letters to government ministers can ever be released.