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Prince Charles was an environmental radical. What happens now he’s King?

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Now the pillar of the establishment, Charles has never been at liberty to wave placards at demonstrations or glue himself to runways, but he has left UK Government ministers in no doubt of where he stands on issues that are important to him. Robert Jobson, author of the biography Charles Our Future Kinghighlights the so-called ‘black spider memos’ – hand written letters to ministers in black, spidery writing.

“What he writes is within any bounds of the unwritten constitution. With this in mind, in Charles’s view, it is his ‘constitutional duty’ … to act in this way,” Jobson wrote. “Drawing attention to key topics on which his unique position has enabled him to glean information, such as climate change, organic farming or youth empowerment, is demonstrating ‘leadership’.”

Charles’s political lobbying – the extent of which was revealed after a 10-year legal battle – is in contrast to his mother, the late Queen. In an interview with The Guardian former Prime Minister David Cameron said it was “entirely right” for Charles to do so, adding: “I think the heir to the throne has a perfect right to have interest in issues like the environment, preserving wildlife, his interest in the built environment .” Charles himself, in an interview with the BBC on the eve of COP26 in 2021, spoke of his frustration at such political gatherings – “they just talk, the problem is to get action” – and his understanding of the motives behind groups such as Extinction Rebellion – although added demonstrations were “not helpful [when done] in a way that alienates people.”

Change of role, change of viewpoint?

‘Meddling’ in politics has led to criticism of Charles, most recently over his reported opposition to deporting asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda. He is not, after all, elected to his position of influence and while he insists he is non-party political, as King he will likely have even less opportunity to express his views.

“If you become the sovereign then you play the role in the way that it is expected,” he told the BBC’s Prince, Son and Heir: Charles at 70.

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