Prince Charles' letters to British ministers finally made public

Britain's Prince Charles greets guests at a reception for him and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, at the British Ambassador's residence in Washington on March 17, 2015. Prince Charles wrote to ministers on issues ranging from resources for Bri
Britain's Prince Charles greets guests at a reception for him and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, at the British Ambassador's residence in Washington on March 17, 2015. Prince Charles wrote to ministers on issues ranging from resources for British troops in Iraq to the fate of the Patagonian Toothfish, according to private letters published on Wednesday against government wishes. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - Prince Charles wrote to ministers on issues ranging from resources for British troops in Iraq to the fate of the Patagonian Toothfish, according to private letters published on Wednesday against government wishes.

The 27 letters to and from the 66-year-old heir to the throne were released after the government lost a decade-long legal battle to stop their publication on the grounds they might cast doubt over the future king’s political neutrality.

Under Britain’s unwritten constitution, the royal family is supposed to remain above politics, and Queen Elizabeth has kept her opinions to herself during her 63-year reign.

However, Charles has often spoken out about subjects close to his heart, such as agriculture, architecture and nature conservation.

In one letter to former prime minister Tony Blair in 2004, he queries delays in the procurement of military helicopters.

“I fear that 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,” he wrote.

The Guardian newspaper first sought access to the letters in 2005, but successive governments blocked disclosure, with the country’s former Attorney-General warning they could damage his future role as monarch.

But in March the Supreme Court agreed a gagging order was unlawful and allowed the publication of the letters, nicknamed “black-spider memos” because of Charles’ scrawled handwriting.

Charles’s office said the letters demonstrated the prince, Britain’s longest-serving heir apparent, was expressing views on issues of public concern which he had openly raised before.

“The Prince of Wales cares deeply about this country, and tries to use his unique position to help others,” Clarence House said in a statement.

“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.”

ALBATROSS CONCERNS

In the often lengthy letters, Charles presses Blair for a cull of badgers, a controversial issue amongst Britons, and to take action over EU regulations affecting complementary medicine, another of his passions.

He also called for Blair to help reduce bureaucratic regulation of farmers, including pressing the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to ease restrictions on dairy farmers.

Blair wrote in reply: “Of course, as you recognise, (the OFT) is rightly an independent body and I couldn’t influence them even if I wanted to.”

In another letter, to former Agriculture Secretary Elliot Morley, Charles suggests the Royal Navy might be able to help stop illegal fishing. “I particularly hope that the illegal fishing of the Patagonian Toothfish will be high on the list of your priorities,” he wrote, “because until that trade is stopped, there is little hope for the poor old albatross for which I shall continue to campaign.”

Supporters said the letters showed Charles was merely expressing views on issues which he and many Britons cared about, while critics said they amounted to meddling and an attempt to exert undue influence on elected politicians.

“Our position is pretty simple: if Charles wants to be involved in politics, stand for election,” Republic, a group that campaigns for the abolition of the monarchy, said in a tweet.

No other letters will become public as in 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron’s government changed the rules to prevent any correspondence between the monarch or heir-to-the-throne and ministers being released under freedom of information requests.