Charles went ahead with a speech on slavery despite Boris Johnson’s warning that it risked opening the door to claims for massive financial reparations, it was claimed last night.
Former No 10 communications director Guto Harri claimed Johnson was “horrified” when the then Prince of Wales told him last year that he planned to advocate for a “deeper understanding of the lasting impact of slavery”.
The then Prime Minister warned him that this could expose the Royal Family to claims for reparations. But the future king told Johnson it was a “conversation whose time had come.”
He ignored the prime minister’s warning and went ahead with the pure speech later that day.
Details of the clash reported at last year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in Rwanda are revealed in a new six-part podcast called Unprecedented, for Global Player, in which Harri documents the final months of Johnson’s premiership.
Dispute: then Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) and Charles (right) in Rwanda in June last year
Harri says the row occurred during a 15-minute discussion between Charles and the then-prime minister at the summit. The two men had already clashed over Charles’s criticism of the Government’s plan to send Channel migrants to Rwanda.
In an article published today in the Mail, Mr Harri says: ‘To move forward, the Prime Minister tried to compare notes on the speeches they were both due to give at the summit.
‘Boris was planning an upbeat tribute to the success of so many Commonwealth countries in growing their economies and consolidating their democracies, heralding the potential benefits for them and the UK in a post-Brexit world.
‘The prince was about to plead for a “deeper understanding of the lasting impact of slavery.” It was, he said, “a conversation whose time has come.”
‘The Prime Minister was shocked. And he warned the prince in plain language: “I would not speak of slavery or you will end up forced to sell the Duchy of Cornwall to pay reparations to those whose ancestors built it.”
“Relations never fully recovered and Prince Charles will be relieved that Boris had left No 10 before ascending the throne.” Charles, who was representing the Queen at the summit, continued shortly afterwards with his speech to Commonwealth leaders.
He revealed that he was on a personal journey of discovery and said he wanted to “deepen my own understanding of the lasting impact of slavery.”
The future king said he was aware that the roots of the Commonwealth “go back to the most painful period in our history”. And he added: “I cannot describe the depth of my personal pain at the suffering of so many people.”
Last month, Buckingham Palace announced it was cooperating with a landmark study into the British monarchy’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. The Palace said the King took the issue “deeply seriously”.
The inquiry is expected to look into the involvement of previous monarchs with slave trading companies, including the Royal African Company and its lieutenant governor, Edward Colston, whose statue was thrown into Bristol harbor by anti-racism protesters.
Boris Johnson (left) with former Number 10 communications director Guto Harri (right) at the launch of the politician’s book The Churchill Factor in 2014.
The King’s support for academic work, carried out by the University of Manchester with the Historic Royal Palaces, was welcomed by researchers and activists.
But this led to immediate calls for repairs. Arley Gill, chair of Grenada’s National Reparations Commission, said: “The Royal Family must make reparation and atone for the people and societies who would have suffered as a result of their involvement in the slave trade.”
“Reparations now cannot be an issue that can be swept under the royal rug.”
Last month, The Guardian published research suggesting that the king’s direct ancestors had owned slaves on Virginia tobacco plantations in the 17th century.
Last night Buckingham Palace declined to comment.