LONDON // Prince Andrew’s role as the United Kingdom’s international trade ambassador came under attack yesterday after the latest release of leaked US diplomatic cables.
In an expletive-laced outburst, the Queen’s second son reportedly criticised France and America, and branded as “idiocy” a British anti-corruption investigation into an arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
The prince, who also has the title of Duke of York, was described as being cocky about British influence in central Asia and “verged on the rude” as he discussed trade with British and Canadian businessmen over brunch during a trip to Kyrgyzstan in 2008.
The report from the US ambassador, Tatiana Gfoeller,was among the latest documents to be revealed by WikiLeaks, which also disclosed yesterday that, when Gordon Brown was prime minister, he had unsuccessfully pleaded with the administration of President Barack Obama that Gary McKinnon – a British computer hacker whom the Americans are trying to extradite for hacking into the Pentagon – be allowed to serve any sentence in the UK.
In what was described as “a humiliating diplomatic rebuff” by The Guardian – one of five Western newspapers given early access to the leaked documents – Washington flatly rejected Mr Brown’s call.
But it was Prince Andrew’s behaviour at the brunch in Bishkek attended by Ms Gfoeller that caused most eyebrows in Britain to be raised.
According to her summary to Washington, the ambassador described the prince as being “astonishingly candid – the discussion at times verged on the rude [from the British side]”.
She said Prince Andrew vehemently attacked the Serious Fraud Office investigation – which then-prime minister Tony Blair later ordered to be closed – into alleged kickbacks surrounding related to BAE Systems’ multi-billion dollar Al-Yamama arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
“He then went on to ‘these ***** journalists, especially from The Guardian, who poke their noses everywhere’ and [presumably] make it harder for British businessmen to do business. The crowd practically clapped.”
Later, he described both US and British governments as being “stupid” for basing business strategies on the next 10 years, while Asian countries were thinking in terms of centuries.
The ambassador also said the prince had said that he was not surprised that US investment in Kyrgyzstan was no greater than Britain’s, saying: “The Americans don’t understand geography. Never have.”
Buckingham Palace yesterday declined to comment on the report, but the Labour MP John Mann told the BBC that the prince might have to reconsider his unpaid position as trade ambassador. “If these comments by Prince Andrew are accurate – and of course we don’t know that yet – then clearly it’s of public interest that they are out there, so that he can judge whether he is performing the role well and government can make that judgment as well,” he said.
“Prince Andrew will need to think through if he is actually carrying out this role to the best of his abilities.”
The former Conservative foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said that, while the prince’s comments had been “very unwise”, they should not affect his job as trade envoy.