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British government backs Prince Andrew

08 march 2011, 03:01
Prince Andrew. AFP©
Prince Andrew. AFP©
The British government threw its full backing behind Prince Andrew on Monday amid calls for him to quit as an unpaid trade ambassador over his ties with a convicted U.S. sex offender, AFP reports.

Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman said "we fully support" Queen Elizabeth II's second son, despite growing criticism of his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, a wealthy businessman jailed for soliciting underage prostitutes.

The prince's spokesman has denounced the "insinuations" in the press, but the row is an unwelcome distraction for the royals just weeks before the wedding of his nephew, Prince William, and Kate Middleton on April 29.

Andrew's ex-wife Sarah Ferguson has become embroiled in the row after it emerged that Epstein gave her £15,000 ($24,000, 17,000 euros) at the prince's request to help pay off her reported multi-million-pound debts.

She told London's Evening Standard that the prince was a "first-rate father and first-rate man... who does not know how to tell an untruth or behave dishonourably".

"I personally, on behalf of myself, deeply regret that Jeffrey Epstein became involved in any way with me," she said, adding that taking his money was a "gigantic error of judgment on my behalf".

Lawmakers called for Prince Andrew to be removed from his role.

Chris Bryant, of the main opposition Labour party, told the BBC: "I think we should be dispensing with his services. I think the charge list against him is so long now that he is a bit of an embarrassment."

However, Cameron's spokesman said the prime minister "thinks he is doing a good job" and had confidence in the prince, telling reporters: "We fully support Prince Andrew is his role as trade envoy."

Business Secretary Vince Cable had earlier denied reports that ministers would try to downgrade the prince's role.

"He is a volunteer, he has offered to perform these roles, and I think it is down to him essentially to judge the position he wants to be in," he said.

Buckingham Palace welcomed the support and said that Andrew, known as the Duke of York, "remains committed to the role of special representative".

There is no suggestion that Andrew himself has done anything wrong, and Alastair Watson, the prince's private secretary, condemned all speculation.

By Alice Ritchie

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