Rishi Sunak has been accused of embroiling the King in toxic Brexit politics by sending him on a controversial tour to “talk” to EU nations.
Charles’ visit to Berlin and Paris next month, his first trip abroad as monarch, is seen as a charm offensive as the prime minister tries to renegotiate the Northern Ireland Protocol with Brussels.
But some senior Tories last night accused their leader of exploiting the Royal Family for his short-term political gains, amid growing party infighting over post-Brexit talks.
Some reports suggest that the proposed amendments to the protocol could even be called the Windsor Agreement, leading to further claims that the number 10 is using the King’s name to further his own goals.
The visit to the two powerful Europeans, defying expectations that Charles would follow tradition by ensuring his first royal visit was to a Commonwealth nation, comes after Buckingham Palace responded to a diplomatic request from the government to strengthen relations with the EU.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is said to be close to reaching an agreement on the Northern Ireland Protocol with Ursula von der Leyen.
But Brexite leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has warned Sunak not to use the monarch for his “own transitory political imperatives”.
One Brexit strategist said: “Dragging Her Majesty into this is a huge misstep by number 10. Remainers always go nuts when there is any suggestion that the Royal Family is involved in Brexit.” Now it seems that it is in their interest to send him to a meeting with the EU.
The new dispute follows the last-minute cancellation of a meeting scheduled for yesterday between Charles and the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, just as contentious talks between London and Brussels near their conclusion.
Such an unusual meeting, and at such a sensitive time, may have helped win over trade unionists, whose support is crucial if new trade deals are to be agreed. But it could have given the impression that the King was giving his blessing to a controversial political issue.
The meeting, the cancellation of which was attributed to ‘operational reasons’, would likely have raised questions about the judgment of both number 10 and the Palace.
It is understood that the proposed agreement will involve the reduction of border controls between the UK mainland and Northern Ireland and limiting the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union in resolving disputes.
Number 10 sources told The Mail on Sunday that the EU had “stepped far out of its comfort zone” in agreeing to make changes to the protocol, having originally held that the treaty could not be renegotiated.
But Brexit Conservatives are skeptical of the talks, believing it is wrong for the prime minister to scrap Boris Johnson’s Northern Ireland Protocol bill, which would allow the UK to unilaterally change parts of the deal, in favor of direct negotiation with the EU.
Brexiteers say No 10 should have involved Johnson in discussions of the negotiations. One said: ‘The government has failed to engage and roll the pitch (set the stage) with Brexiteers. They should have spoken to Boris and other Brexiteers weeks ago. No one will be surprised if your mishandling of this comes back to bite them.
Last week, Johnson warned Sunak that it would be a “big mistake” to abandon the Northern Ireland Protocol bill.
Meanwhile. Royal experts say the King and Queen Consort are making the European state visit, which is also expected to encompass Bordeaux, for the sake of Northern Ireland.
One said: “While the Monarch is not overtly political, the King’s role is nonetheless to be the best diplomat the Government can field.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reacts at the start of the European Commission’s weekly university meeting in Brussels, Belgium.
But Rees-Mogg warned against using the king as a political tool, saying that Charles should have followed his mother’s lead by first visiting “his own realms” in the Commonwealth.
The former Cabinet minister said: ‘Of course, the Government has a long-standing and important role in advising the Monarch on his major public commitments.
“However, it would be wrong for Downing Street to pressure the King to make his first foreign visit on the basis of his own transitory political imperatives. The King is equally sovereign of his other kingdoms and has a responsibility to his other Prime Ministers.
The late queen’s first such foreign visit was to a kingdom and this is the correct precedent to follow.
“Given the growth of republican sentiment (throughout the Commonwealth), Her Majesty should go to her own realms first, such as Australia, New Zealand or Canada.”
But a royal source said: ‘Some might have expected the King to visit the Commonwealth first, but of course he takes the Government’s advice on which trips are made and when. This trip to Britain’s influential European neighbors is an opportunity for the King to do what the Monarchy does so well: engage in soft diplomacy on behalf of the British Government.
“There are reasons why now is a good time to look to our closest allies as post-Brexit negotiations on Northern Ireland take place and the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues. His wish is to do his duty and serve the country by uniting the people.’
Another royal: “This trip is about Northern Ireland and protecting the relationship (with the rest of the UK) and the people there. The King has visited Northern Ireland every year for some 20 years and it is also likely to be one of his first visits as King.
“He is well informed about Irish politics and will want to do everything he can in his diplomatic capacity to protect the peace process, particularly as the (royal) family was hit hard by Mountbatten’s death.” Louis Mountbatten, the King’s beloved great-uncle, was killed by an IRA bomb in 1979.
Resolving the post-Brexit trade rules between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the UK is seen as critical to releasing the political deadlock in the region and ensuring the ongoing peace.
A No 10 source close to the negotiations said: “Credit to the EU: they have stepped out of their comfort zone and what was said to be impossible is close to being accomplished – a treaty change in the best interests of Northern Ireland. “.
Senior Conservatives have warned Mr Sunak against using the monarch for his “own transient political imperatives”.
Brussels is said to be ready to accept UK proposals to introduce ‘red’ and ‘green’ lanes in Northern Ireland ports. Goods destined for the province would pass through the fast-moving ‘green lane’, with a more scrutinized ‘red lane’ for goods traveling to the Republic of Ireland and the EU single market London will also take over under the proposals. total control of issues such as VAT and state subsidies for the province that previously fell to Brussels.
However, Brexiteers questioned whether the proposals would really allow Northern Ireland manufacturers to deviate from EU regulations and escape the orbit of Brussels. They also demanded clarification on the extent to which London could exercise real control over issues such as VAT.
A source close to Johnson said: “No one can pass judgment on the deal until they see it.” ‘
The King’s visits to Berlin and Paris are scheduled for the end of March, while he also prepares for the Coronation on May 6. He is expected to make short visits to major Commonwealth countries later this year.
Meanwhile, other members of the Royal Family will be dispatched in a bid to quell rising Republican sentiment, including a yet-to-be-announced major visit from the Prince and Princess of Wales.
Already this month, the Earl and Countess of Wessex have been to the Cayman Islands on behalf of the King and Princess Anne has visited New Zealand.
This will not be the first time the King has helped forge closer ties with our European neighbours.
The most significant recent visit came in November 2020 when the Prince of Wales, as he was then, flew to Germany with Camilla on her 71st birthday. He laid a wreath in Berlin to commemorate the victims of war and tyranny and delivered a heartfelt post-Brexit speech about the connection between the British and German peoples.
He said: ‘The relationship between our countries is evolving once again. Its form is a matter negotiated between our governments and its essence is defined by the enduring connections between our people. Therefore, I sincerely believe that the fundamental bond between us will remain strong. We will always be friends, partners and allies. As our countries begin this new chapter in our long history, let us reaffirm our bond for years to come.”
In 2017, Prince William was sent to Berlin on a similar diplomatic mission, where he said Britain and Germany would remain “the steadfastest of friends” despite Brexit.