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Charles challenged Blair over Iraq

Published 13/05/2015

Letters written by the Prince of Wales will be released following a Freedom of Information request
Letters written by the Prince of Wales will be released following a Freedom of Information request

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 September 8 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 October 11 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.

Charles also described a European regulation to restrict practitioners of herbal medicine as like ''using a sledgehammer to crack a nut''.

In a letter to Mr Blair in February 2005, the Prince said the European Union Directive on Herbal Medicinal Products was having a ''deleterious effect'' on the UK's complementary medicine sector by ''effectively outlawing the use of certain herbal extracts''.

Charles, a well-known champion of alternative medicine, was strongly against the 2004 directive, which left many practitioners unregulated, forcing a number of products to disappear from the market.

Referring to a previous conversation he had with the Labour leader, the Prince wrote: ''We briefly mentioned the European Directive on Herbal Medicines, which is having such a deleterious effect in this country by effectively outlawing the use of certain herbal extracts.

''I think we both agreed this was using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.''

In 2005 the Department of Health was considering regulation of herbal medicine and acupuncture, following the European directive. No such system was ever created in the UK however.

Charles also complained to Mr Blair about regulatory body the Office of Fair Trading, describing it as a "serious obstacle" for dairy co-operatives.

He added that Mr Blair had said he would look at the matter and "see if there was anything which could be done to help the OFT to take a wider view".

Mr Blair, in his letter of response dated October 11 2004, reminded the Prince of the OFT's independence, adding: "I couldn't influence them even if I wanted to."

In February 2005, Charles also complained about the "dominant position" of retailers and its effect on British farmers. He welcomed proposals for a Buyers' Charter and even suggested Mr Blair appoint a particular person, whose name was redacted before the publication of the letters, as an independent arbitrator of the body.

Other issues raised by the Prince included the plight of the albatross and the fate of a Chilean fish.

He wrote to then-fisheries minister Elliot Morley: "I particularly hope that the illegal fishing of the Patagonian toothfish will be high on your list of priorities because until that trade is stopped, there is little hope for the poor old albatross, for which I shall continue to campaign...''

Both Mr Blair and the Prince signed their letters to one another "Yours ever" and Charles often apologised for the length of his note which frequently ran to three or four pages of typed A4.

Charles even made a joke about the Freedom of Information Act - the very legislation which enabled the publication of his correspondence - in one of his notes to Mr Blair.

He said: "It was very good to see you again the other day and, as usual, I much enjoyed the opportunity to talk about a number of issues.

"You kindly suggested that it would be helpful if I put them in writing - despite the Freedom of Information Act!"

Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger described it as "shocking" that the Government had wasted public money trying to prevent the publication of the letters.

"We fought this case because we believed - and the most senior judges in the country agreed - that the Royal Family should operate to the same degrees of transparency as anyone else trying to make their influence felt in public life," he said.

"The Attorney General, in trying to block the letters, said their contents could 'seriously damage' perceptions of the Prince's political neutrality.

"Whatever the rights and wrongs of that assessment, it is shocking that the Government wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money trying to prevent their publication.

"Now, after 10 years, we are pleased to be able to share the contents of his correspondence and let people draw their own conclusions."

Charles was at St James's Palace in central London when the letters were released, speaking at the Prince's Trust's Our Young People Our Future conference and joining a reception with guests including television presenters Ant and Dec, who are Trust ambassadors, and Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow.

The Prince made no mention of the letters during his speech.

Earlier, as he arrived at Marks & Spencer's flagship store in London's Oxford Street to highlight a work placement scheme between the retailer and the Trust, one of his senior aides ripped the cover off Channel 4 News political correspondent Michael Crick's microphone when he asked Charles if he was "worried" about the documents being made public.

The Prince did not reply but said "very predictable" as he entered the store.

Crick later said: "He didn't seem too pleased that we asked."

Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond said he had received "quite a few" letters from Charles and described them as "very intelligent and always worth reading".

Asked whether he had received any letters , the SNP MP told Channel 4 News: "Yes, quite a few. All very good.

"I thought they were excellent.

"Prince Charles's letters, in my opinion, are on subjects he knows quite a bit about and in the main I found them very intelligent and always worth reading."

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