‘Independence day’ for the Duke of York, as the end of his royal career leaves little else to lose

In just 49 words, the Duke of York’s royal career was over.

And there was no going back.

In announcing that Prince Andrew’s “military affiliations and Royal patronages have been returned to The Queen”, Buckingham Palace made clear that they will never be returned – regardless of the outcome of any future legal proceedings.

Instead, they will be redistributed to other members of the Royal Family, ending any hope the 61-year-old royal may have still harboured of a return to royal life.

He had stepped back in November 2019, following that disastrous Newsnight interview, “for the foreseeable future.”

Yet the irrevocability of Thursday’s statement suggests that the Duke has finally come to the conclusion that he no longer has a future in the monarchy at all.

A statement from Buckingham Palace regarding The Duke of York: pic.twitter.com/OCeSqzCP38

— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) January 13, 2022

Despite vehemently protesting his innocence, even a royal criticised for his pomposity and arrogance appears able to see that there can be no public presence for a man found guilty in the court of public opinion.

It should perhaps come as no surprise that it was Andrew’s ex-wife, the Duchess of York, who helped to persuade him that this was the only way forward as the Queen prepares to mark 70 years on the throne next month. For all her faults, “Fergie” has always been rather more in tune with the hoi polloi than her rather high-and-mighty former husband.

I understand that discussions about the father-of-two cutting all ties with “The Firm” stepped up after a “brutal” court hearing in New York on January 4 when it first became clear that Judge Lewis Kaplan had no intention of dismissing Virginia Roberts Giuffre’s sexual assault lawsuit.

Matters finally came to a head with the Judge’s confirmation, on Wednesday, that the case would go to trial –  with sources close to the Duke insisting that Buckingham Palace’s statement was a result of a “mutual” conversation.

With input from other members of the Royal Family, including the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge, it had already been decided that Andrew could play no part in the Platinum Jubilee events. But when it was confirmed he would be facing the prospect of either a civil trial or an out of court settlement, it was decided that he would have to participate as a “private citizen” rather than a prince of the realm.

The palace has always been a stickler for precedent, and the decision to allow Andrew to retain his Dukedom and to use his HRH in a private capacity echoes the treatment of Edward VIII following the abdication in 1936, and more recently, the Duke of Sussex.

Indeed, some could view the unequivocal and somewhat uncompromising nature of the announcement as a shot across the bows as Prince Harry prepares to release his autobiography in the autumn (It is said the Queen has already been consulting lawyers ahead of the eagerly-anticipated publication by Penguin Random House).

Royals who have lost HRH title

It goes without saying that HM will share her second, and some say, favourite son’s sense of distress over the way things have worked out.

Part of the Duke’s unpopularity was borne out of the fact it was always clear he enjoyed the trappings of his royal life – and wasn’t shy in asserting his authority as a rather over-pampered “blood” prince who grew up as second-in-line to the British throne.

However, his closest allies hope that his new-found separation from the crown will finally give him the freedom he has so far lacked to fight these allegations.

“I genuinely believe in the long run this will prove to be the Duke’s independence day,” said one. “It’s been almost impossible for him to do anything without worrying about damaging the monarchy, or his mother. This was really the only viable option available to him. If he has learned anything from the past two years, it is that if you are a member of the Royal Family, falsely accused of heinous crimes then it is almost impossible to clear your name.

“If he says nothing, he’s accused of hiding behind his mother’s skirts, and if he speaks out, he’s victim shaming. He now has the latitude to clear his name as a private citizen.”

The jury remains out on whether the Duke will actually opt for a courtroom showdown or go for the less exposing option of negotiating a settlement with the plaintiff, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, however.

Virginia Roberts Giuffre claims Jeffrey Epstein forced her to have sex with Andrew when she was 17

The 38-year-old mother of three claims Jeffrey Epstein forced her to have sex with Andrew in his New York mansion, in London, and on the late billionaire paedophile’s private island in the US Virgin Islands in 2001 when she was 17.

Having strenuously denied the claims since they first surfaced in 2015, it had been suggested that the Duke would want to avoid a pay off for fear it would imply guilt.

Yet with his reputation shot to pieces – and his military affiliations and Royal patronages now removed – he arguably has little left to lose. The Duke’s friends are urging him to fight to clear his name in court, but it is a high stakes gamble, especially considering the burden of proof in civil cases is “on the balance of probabilities”.

Both options are potentially financially ruinous – with talk of any settlement already at $5 million – ten times the amount Epstein paid Mrs Roberts Giuffre in 2009.

The Duke’s non-royal status may make it more difficult for the palace to justify the Queen contributing to his legal bills. And what happens to Andrew’s taxpayer funded bodyguards now is anyone’s guess.

The rumblings of this sorry saga started just before the Diamond Jubilee, when the Duke made what he later admitted was an “ill-judged” decision to maintain an association with Epstein following his release from prison.

After a decade of allegation and innuendo, this crisis has reached its peak in the foothills of another Jubilee – an unprecedented milestone for the Queen as she fast approaches 96.

In dethroning the Duke of York, the 95-year-old monarch has once again reminded her subjects that no one is bigger than the institution that she has stalwartly served for nearly seven decades.

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