In recent days it has been revealed that Prince Charles and Prince William have access to UK official secrets.
In recent days it has been revealed that Prince Charles and Prince William have access to UK official secrets. Charles “routinely receives” secret documents including Cabinet papers. It is not clear whether access stops at the two of them.
This is entirely inappropriate and should cease.
In a democracy, control of the state rests, or should rest, with the elected government. A monarch’s role is purely ceremonial and should entail no real control over any part of the state. The Queen (or William, Charles, George or another person who may succeed her) is unqualified to exercise power, has not been chosen by the people to do so, is subject to few checks and balances and is not accountable to the electorate.
Ministers, officials and others sometimes need access to official secrets to do their work, although almost none have unfettered access. An individual can see secret material relevant to their duties. As members of the Royal Family, William and Charles have no public duties to which secret material could be relevant.
The Royal Family receive more than £300m per year of taxpayers’ funds and, it is argued, perform certain services for the public good. Whether they do or not, whether they are value for money, whether £300m is excessive are separate debates. But it is hard to see how any of their services, any of the ways in which these funds are spent, create a need to see secret material.
The Royal Family are also private citizens. They are billionaires who own businesses and invest in many types of asset. I do not write to decry billionaires, business owners or investors. Some individuals I admire, like Bill Gates, are those things. But no other billionaire, business owner or investor has wide access to secret material and if they did there would be strong safeguards to ensure they could not use the material for private gain.
On the face of what we know, there is no safeguard in place against any present or future member of the Royal Family using knowledge from secret material for their private advantage. As Thomas Jefferson said, if you can’t see a check or balance you should assume it does not exist. It is no good to say “well, we can trust William and Charles personally”. An ethical state eliminates corruption by eliminating any possibility of it everywhere it can.
Some will ask, “does this really matter?” It is not the most urgent change needed to improve the immediate lives of people tomorrow. There are many other things that need to be done but none of them mean this cannot be done too.
The Royal Family are “a living symbol”. But, a symbol of what? Let’s make reforms like this, use this living symbol, to show we are all equal before the law and should be equal in life chances.
Perhaps Charles or William will give up their special privilege voluntary? That would be an act of great moral leadership and an example to others.
* Antony Hook is MEP Candidate for the South East and has practised as a barrister since 2003.