If there was ever a time for us to reassess our country’s bizarre relationship with the monarchy, now is probably it.
Last week, Prince Andrew agreed to pay out a reported sum of £12 million in an out-of-court settlement to his alleged victim Virginia Giuffre – a woman he claims he has never met.
How he will fund the astronomical payout, which Giuffre has said will be used to fund charities working with victims of sex trafficking, is up for discussion, but last week royal commentators speculated the Queen will help finance the settlement using money from the private income she receives from the Duchy of Lancaster estate.
A portfolio of land, property and assets held in trust for the sovereign since 1399, the Duchy of Lancaster comprises more than 18,400 hectares of land across England and Wales. It includes the lucrative Savoy Estate in central London, the Duchy’s most significant commercial property portfolio, made up of mainly office and retail accommodation.
At the end of March 2019, the Duchy of Lancaster had £549 million of net assets under its control. And all that inherited wealth is in a separate pot to the money the royal family receives from the government in the form of the Sovereign Grant, which is used to fund the monarch’s official duties.
As the royal family often likes to demonstrate with its lavish refurbishments, weddings, funerals and anniversary events, it is filthy rich. Rich enough to possess a treasure trove of priceless jewels and artefacts, rich enough for each of its members to live a life of absolute comfort and privilege beyond the wildest dreams of 99 per cent of the world’s population, and rich enough to attempt to silence accusers of sex abuse.
Last week US lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents 20 of Andrew’s friend Jeffrey Epstein’s victims, said the settlement between the Queen’s second son and Giuffre means the public will have to decide who to believe. It is likely Andrew will never testify under oath. Case closed.
As news of Andrew’s settlement hit the headlines, the Metropolitan Police announced it had launched an investigation into cash-for-honours allegations linked to the Prince of Wales’s charity the Prince’s Foundation after media reports claimed offers of help were made to secure honours and citizenship for a Saudi billionaire.
Meanwhile, back here, in the real world, normal people, the ones who get up every day and go to work in a daily struggle to keep a roof over their heads, are facing a cost-of-living crisis.
Figures from the ONS last week showed inflation in the UK increased to the highest rate for three decades in January, with the consumer prices index measure of inflation predicted to hit more than 7 per cent in April.
As families brace themselves for rising bills and a tight squeeze on household spending, the Duke of York’s multi-million pound pay-off in an attempt to explain away his alleged activities and acquaintances is a special slap in the face.
This year the Queen will celebrate her 70th year on the throne. The royal family will no doubt gather on the Buckingham Palace balcony en masse, the beacons of power and privilege. But as the public marks the Queen’s extraordinary reign, there are questions to be asked about the future of the monarchy.