Fresh doubts surround the Duke of York’s continuing role as UK trade ambassador in the wake of controversy about his ties with a convicted paedophile and further tabloid revelations this weekend.
Business Secretary Vince Cable said “conversations” would be taking place with Prince Andrew over his future role after further stories emerged in papers this weekend about his relationship with billionaire Jeffrey Epstein.
“He is a volunteer, he has offered to perform these roles, and I think it is down to him essentially to judge the position he wants to be in,” Cable told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“Obviously there are conversations that will take place with him about what he is to do in future. That is simply a matter of managing the relationship.”
The News of the World first revealed on 20 February that Prince Andrew has spent five days with convicted sex offender Epstein at his luxury Manhattan flat and that it had witness women come and go from the building. This weekend there was a string of further revelations about the pair – and about financial dealings of Prince Andrew’s ex-wite Sarah Ferguson.
Back in May, News of the World investigations editor Mazher Mahmood caught Ferguson on tape apparently offering businessmen access to Prince Andrew for £500,000.
Downing Street would “shed no tears” if the Duke of York resigned as UK trade envoy, government sources told The Times, amid growing Cabinet concern about his conduct and the first signs that his job may be downgraded.
The Daily Telegraph reported that ministers were to review his position and reduce his responsibilities.
Epstein, 58, was accused of sex offences by a number of under-age girls and sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2008 for soliciting a minor for prostitution.
The Duke has been the UK’s Special Representative for International Trade and Investment since 2001, travelling around the world and at home promoting Britain’s business interests.
There have been long-running complaints about the lavish nature of his official foreign trips.
His private secretary Alastair Watson, writing in a letter published in the Times newspaper last week said: “There has been widespread comment on the Duke’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein.
“The Duke has known Mr Epstein since being introduced to him in the early 1990s.
“The insinuations and innuendos that have been made in relation to the Duke are without foundation.”
Watson also confirmed that as part of his trade role Andrew had met Colonel Gaddafi’s son Saif in Libya on two occasions in 2007.
Saif Gaddafi was “not a friend” of the Duke’s, Watson added.
Andrew has also faced criticism for entertaining the son-in-law of ousted Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali at Buckingham Palace.
A Cabinet minister told the Telegraph the Duke’s responsibilities would be the subject of a “tasking review” that would lead to a reduction in his responsibilities.
However, there would be no official announcement of the review, as the Government was wary of antagonising the Queen and Royal Family.