Sunday, 25 Jul 2021

John Major’s secret plan to save Royal Family from ‘intrusive and intolerable’ criticism

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1992 is known as the year when the Royal Family, with Her Majesty at its helm, was on the brink of breaking down. It was reportedly particularly devastating for the Queen, who referred to it as an “annus horribilis”. In a speech at Guildhall, London, to mark the 40th anniversary of her accession, Her Majesty admitted: “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure.

“In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an ‘annus horribilis’.

“I suspect that I am not alone in thinking so.”

Not only was the separation of two of her children announced – Prince Andrew and Sarah, Duchess of York in March and Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales in December – but Princess Anne’s divorce to Captain Mark Phillips was also finalised.

Diana’s tell-all book ‘Diana: Her True Story’ – which detailed her marital problems – was also published in June of that year.

Finally, in November 1992, a fire broke out in Windsor Castle, forcing the ceiling of St George’s Hall to collapse and a number of apartments to be burnt.

Despite the scandals and the sustained period of “intrusive and intolerable” criticism, the royals came out of it stronger – and according to unearthed reports, it was all thanks to former Prime Minister John Major.

Confidential Cabinet minutes released at the National Archives in 2017 showed that Mr Major decided there was an urgent need for his Government to voice public support for the sovereign.

In a rare insight into dealings between ministers and Buckingham Palace, a memo of a Cabinet meeting on November 26, 1992, details how Sir John told his colleagues that some months previously the Queen had approached him to “consider arrangements by which she could pay the equivalent of income tax on her private income”.

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Noting that Prince Charles had made a similar offer, the former Prime Minister said that “recent unjustified media criticism” of the Queen’s exemption from income tax had persuaded him to bring forward an announcement that she would pay into the public purse – the first monarch to do so since the Thirties.

However, minutes of the meeting show that Sir John, who railed against “intrusive and intolerable” media coverage of the Royal Family after a succession of stories about the state of its members’ marriages, wanted to go further and effectively launch an Establishment PR campaign – including leading clerics – to shore up public support for the House of Windsor.

The minutes recorded: “This gesture [paying income tax] would not by itself change the behaviour of the media and some would represent it as resulting from their pressure.

“The Government should reinforce the Queen’s initiative by strong expressions of support for the institution of the Monarchy. The Prime Minister might consider making this the centrepiece of a major speech in due course. Support from other leading figures in public life, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, could also be timely.”

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In 2017, the Cabinet Office denied the files had been deliberately withheld to prevent difficult revelations.

A spokesman said: “We have to ensure all files are properly reviewed and prepared before they are transferred, so that they do not harm national security or our relations with other countries or disclose the sensitive personal information of living individuals.”

Yesterday, Sir John briefly returned to the limelight as he condemned the Government for its cut to the foreign aid budget at the same time it is planning to purchase a national yacht.

He said: “It seems that we can afford a ‘national yacht’ that no-one either wants or needs, whilst cutting help to some of the most miserable and destitute people in the world.

“This is not a Conservatism that I recognise. It is the stamp of Little England, not Great Britain.”

During his time as Prime Minister, Sir John also planned to build a royal yacht, though.

He said at the time: “We believe that a new royal yacht—a symbol of the nation’s pride—should be funded not by sponsorship or subscription, but by the nation.”

Construction did not go ahead, though, as he lost the election to Tony Blair.

According to Guido Fawkes, during Sir John’s premiership, foreign aid was lower than it ever was under any Prime Minister in living memory.

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