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Saturday, 21 May 2022
Prince Andrew and Boris Johnson both struggle to carry on
Ian Black

Queen Elizabeth II acted decisively last week to protect her reputation when Her Majesty made clear that her second and reportedly “favourite” son, Prince Andrew, was to be stripped of his illustrious royal titles because of the growing suspicion that he may have committed a sexual assault.

 Prince Andrew, also known as the Duke of York, categorically denies that he did anything of the sort to Virginia Guiffre, introduced to him by the American sex offender and wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein. Giuffre, now 38, has pursued a case against Andrew in recent months.

 Giuffre claims she was forced to have sex at the age of 17 back in 2001 with the duke by two associates of his, Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, the British media heiress who was convicted in New York last month of sex-trafficking girls for Epstein, who died in prison in 2019.

 The Queen’s decision means Andrew has been completely removed from official royal life as he prepares to fight a civil lawsuit brought by Giuffre after a New York judge rejected his attempt to have her case against him dismissed. He has to stop using the title “his royal highness” and military ranks such as colonel in the elite Grenadier Guards.

 The Manhattan court ruling that the civil sex assault will proceed is a devastating blow for both Andrew and the rest of the royal family after more than a decade of allegations and innuendo. The Queen is often described as “ruthless” in her determination to protect the reputation of the monarchy she has embodied for nearly seven decades.

 Apart from any appeal Andrew may be able to mount against Wednesday’s ruling, he faces the humiliating prospect of having to give evidence in a sex assault lawsuit and face cross-examination on aspects of his private life to clear his name. Whether he wins or loses, it is an unprecedentedly bleak chapter in the House of Windsor’s modern history.

 Ever since Andrew was photographed in 2010 in New York’s Central Park with Epstein, the duke’s public image has been tarnished by association. When, in 2011, the photograph of Andrew with his arm around the waist of the then 17-year-old Virginia Roberts appeared, it further damned him in the court of public opinion.

 But it was not until 2015, that Roberts, now Giuffre, first alleged she was forced to have sex with the prince – in Epstein’s New York mansion, on his private island in the US Virgin Islands, and at Maxwell’s London home.

 Not surprisingly the royal scandal has been widely linked to other ongoing and sensationally attention-grabbing stories. Chief amongst them is the mounting anger against Boris Johnson, Britain’s Conservative prime minister about what is known as “Partygate”. That refers to Johnson’s failure to resign over accusations that he attended a Downing Street party at the height of the Covid pandemic in May 2020.

 At that time, the UK was two months into its first lockdown, with many people isolated and barred from seeing friends and family even in the most difficult circumstances. The news that a” bring your own own booze” party was held in the prime minister’s residence on that day has been met by many with anger, but also a lack of surprise: it’s simply the latest in a series of damaging revelations.

 Johnson looked uncharacteristically chastened at prime minister’s question time in the House of Commons last Wednesday when he – very unusually – apologized for upsetting many citizens, and growing numbers of Tory MPs, for drawing up the lockdown rules and ignoring them himself and for No 10 staff. He claimed he understood why people stuck inside because of his government’s pandemic restrictions may have felt angry, even while insisting it had been “a work event”.

 And just a day after the US judge’s decision to let Guiffre’s lawsuit go ahead, the Daily Telegraph reported that two other Downing Street parties had gone ahead the evening before Prince Philip’s funeral, aged 99, was held last April. The Queen, married to her husband for 73 years, was poignantly photographed sitting mourning alone in the church because of Covid restrictions.

 The reaction from political opponents and the public was scathing. Labour leader Keir Starmer called explicitly on Boris to resign, as did the head of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Ed Davey, terming Johnson “a threat to the health of the nation”.

 Government ministers have pleaded with the public to wait until a report commissioned by a senior civil servant is published in the coming weeks. By contrast another London woman was fined £12,000 for having breached lockdown rules by holding a party on the day of Prince Philip’s burial.

 Comments on Prince Andrew are Boris are becoming increasingly linked. Their responses have been widely interpreted as reflecting the arrogance of the British establishment - as one Twitter user said: “These aren’t separate stories. It’s all one story: a privileged class who think they can get away with anything and then find out that they can’t”. It’s certainly not a great impression to have about what the prime minister describes as post-Brexit “Global Britain.”