Britain’s most senior civil servant has been forced to deny dragging Prince William into the Brexit debate, weeks after the Duke of Cambridge made a seemingly pro-European Union (EU) comment during a speech.
Appearing before MPs yesterday, Sir Jeremy Heywood admitted it was likely Downing Street officials had seen a copy of the prince’s speech beforehand, but denied there was any overt political message when Prince William said: “Our ability to unite in common action with other nations is essential – it is the bedrock of our security and prosperity.”
The words were widely reported by the mainstream media last month as a possible attack on those who want to leave the EU, although others pointed out that Prince William’s words could equally be interpreted as pro-Brexit.
Nonetheless, many questioned the choice of words while the European Union was so prominent in the public conscience.
The Daily Mail reports that Labour MP Paul Flynn asked Sir Jeremy yesterday: “Wouldn’t those words be fine to put into the campaign material of those wishing to stay in the European Union?”
Sir Jeremy responded: “I certainly wouldn’t assume to advise the campaign; that’s not my job.”
He did not deny, however, that he had intervened in the Scottish independence referendum by coming up with a form of words that allowed the Queen to express her desire for Scotland to stay in the UK.
Paul Flynn said: “Here we’ve got quite convincing examples of government, possibly with the connivance of the civil service, using the Royal Family for party political aims. Are you involved in this?”
Sir Jeremy replied: “I don’t think there has been any attempt by anybody in government or the civil service to involve the Royal Family in politicisation.”
He had been brought before the Commons public administration committee to explain the government’s decision to deny ministers who support Brexit access to certain documents.
He claimed the bar on information was only for “briefing material and speech material”, adding: “The Prime Minister doesn’t think it is appropriate, and I don’t either, to provide that material to ministers who want to argue against the Government’s position”.