Prince Charles challenged Blair over Iraq
The Prince of Wales tackled the then prime minister Tony Blair over the lack of resources for the Armed Forces fighting in Iraq, previously secret letters have revealed.
Publication of correspondence between Charles and government ministers following a long-running legal battle showed that the Prince lobbied Mr Blair and other ministers on a range of issues from badgers and TB to herbal medicine, education and illegal fishing.
Twenty-seven letters - 10 from Charles to ministers, 14 by ministers and three letters between private secretaries - were released following a 10-year campaign by Guardian journalist Rob Evans to see the documents after a freedom of information request.
The Prince, who will one day as king be head of the armed forces, complained to Mr Blair about British forces in Iraq ‘being asked to do an extremely challenging job without the necessary resources’.
Charles is understood to be ‘disappointed’ that the confidentiality principle was not maintained as his memos - written between September 2004 and March 2005 - were finally published.
Clarence House defended the Prince's decision to write the letters, with a spokesman saying: “The publication of private letters can only inhibit his ability to express the concerns and suggestions which have been put to him in the course of his travels and meetings.”
But his top aide suggested the experience was unlikely to put him off raising matters that are brought to his attention in the future.
Charles's principal private secretary William Nye said: “He will think about how he deals with things but I think he'll continue to want to reflect the views that he hears from members of the public, and talk about things that matter to our society and the world to ministers of any government.”
There were no handwritten ‘black spider’ letters among the batch released - so-called because of the black ink used by the Prince in some correspondence and his habit of underlining words - and all were typed.
In one detailed and lengthy letter to Mr Blair, dated 8th September 2004, the Prince wrote of problems with deploying new Oxbow surveillance technology, which he described as a ‘major advance’ for the military but warned that the deployment of the equipment was ‘being frustrated by the poor performance of the existing Lynx aircraft in high temperatures’.
“Despite this, the procurement of new aircraft to replace the Lynx (helicopter) is subject to further delays and uncertainty due to the significant pressure on the defence budget,” Charles said.
“I fear this is just one more example of where our armed forces are being asked to do an extremely challenging job (particularly in Iraq) without the necessary resources.”
In his response to the Lynx letter, Mr Blair replied on 11th October that year, saying that ‘limitations of the existing platform’ were well known by the MoD, and the budget for the coming years included investment in helicopters.
In the same note to Mr Blair, the Prince asked him to put ‘pressure’ on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs over the bureaucratic burdens facing farmers.
Charles wrote: “Suffice it to say that any pressure which you can bring to bear on Defra through the Panel for Regulatory Accountability, which you told me you are chairing, would be much appreciated.”
In another letter to Mr Blair, the Prince described opponents of a badger cull as ‘intellectually dishonest’ and advocated culling to tackle tuberculosis in cattle.
Writing in February 2005, Charles criticised the ‘badger lobby’ for not minding about the slaughter of cattle which contract the disease but objecting to the killing of badgers.
He urged Mr Blair to ‘look again at introducing a proper cull of badgers where it is necessary’, warning that the rising number of cases of TB in cattle was the most pressing and urgent problem facing the agricultural sector.
“I, for one, cannot understand how the ‘badger lobby’ seem to mind not at all about the slaughter of thousands of expensive cattle, and yet object to a managed cull of an over-population of badgers - to me, this is intellectually dishonest,” he wrote.
The then Labour government resisted pressure to launch a cull although David Cameron's coalition government did go ahead with one on a limited basis in 2013.
As of March last year, more than a quarter of a million pounds (£274,481.16) had been spent by the Government on legal fees to try to block the publication of the letters.
The money was spent by eight government departments as former attorney general Dominic Grieve tried to prevent their release, claiming it would undermine the principle of the heir to the throne being politically neutral.
The real cost is likely to be much higher due to ongoing legal wrangling since the figures were published.