Lord Sainsbury tells Prince Charlie: Keep your nose out
Exclusive: Labour donor tells prince to keep views to himself; keep your nose out, Charles
By John Ingham Environment Editor
The Express June 16, 2003
ONE of Tony Blair's most senior Government figures last night launched a sensational attack on Prince Charles, telling him to keep his nose out of politics. In a sign of mounting New Labour fury at persistent criticism from the Prince, Science Minister Lord Sainsbury hit out at his interventions in public debates on genetically modified foods, organic farming, the future of the countryside and, most recently, the microscopic world of nanotechnology. Lord Sainsbury - an appointed minister of Mr Blair who has bankrolled the cash- strapped Labour Party to the tune of GBP 11.5million - said Prince Charles should follow the "constitutional convention" that royals do not comment on politics. He suggested that the Prince should mirror the Queen's "absolutely immaculate" record of "staying out" of politics.
Lord Sainsbury, like Mr Blair, is a strong advocate of GM foods despite the British public and retailers having overwhelmingly rejected them. He gave his controversial stance in an interview to political journalist Mary Riddell which will be published in next month's Saga Magazine. The billionaire former supermarket magnate said: "I think Prince Charles does have strongly held views. The issue really is about the Royal Family getting involved in political issues. "Constitutional convention is that they stay out. It is at least debatable that these issues are political, and therefore the Royal Family should not get involved. I think the Queen has been absolutely immaculate in staying out. That is how it should be."
Asked if Prince Charles should do likewise, he said: "That is the convention. Many of these issues have become political. Therefore one needs to be very careful, if you're a member of the Royal Family, before getting involved."
But last night Lord Sainsbury was accused of displaying "breath-taking" arrogance. Tory MP Michael Fabricant said: "This is a rather strange perspective from an unelected politician sitting in the House of Lords who has continued to fund the party of Government while simultaneously being a member of the Government which elevated him to the peerage. He is not elected and he is only in office because he is a friend of the Prime Minister and is bankrolling the Labour Party. If Prince Charles should keep his nose out, so should Lord Sainsbury."
Liana Stupples, of environmentalists Friends of the Earth, said Lord Sainsbury would do better to be as aware of public opinion as the Prince. She said: "It is pretty clear that most of Prince Charles' subjects share his concerns about technology like GM organisms. To judge by public opinion, Prince Charles has got a democratic mandate to speak on these subjects and it is Lord Sainsbury who is out of touch with what modern politics require. "It is a bit strong for Lord Sainsbury, who has not been elected, to complain about the heir to the throne intervening on these issues of great public importance."
Lord Sainsbury, who gave up being chairman of the family supermarket chain on entering Government as a peer in 1998, has been named as Britain's third richest person. He disputes he is worth GBP 3billion. Some of his wealth is tied up with biotechnology and he owns a global patent on a GM food gene. Prince Charles has repeatedly spoken out against GM foods, accusing the biotech industry of playing God and warning of the great uncertainty about GM's long term consequences for the environment and human health. By stoking up public hostility to the technology, he went head-to-head with Mr Blair. Earlier this year the Prince entered the debate about nanotechnology, backing claims that it could lead to the world disappearing into a "grey goo". Lord Sainsbury said that was "very unlikely" though not impossible.