Britain’s Prince Andrew to ‘step back from public duties’ after Epstein furore

Britain’s Prince Andrew to ‘step back from public duties’ after Epstein furore

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 03, 2019, Britain's Prince Andrew, Duke of York arrives for the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit in Bangkok on November 3, 2019. Picture: Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP

British telecoms giant BT earlier on Wednesday threatened to end its backing for an awards scheme unless the royal was dropped as patron.

Prince Andrew on Wednesday said he was cancelling his public engagements, as the outcry over his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein showed no sign of abating.

Queen Elizabeth II’s second son has been under pressure since a television interview broadcast on Saturday in which he defended his links to the disgraced financier, who was found dead in a New York prison in August.

An increasing number of organisations and initiatives backed by Prince Andrew have said they were not renewing or would review their support because of the revelations.

Andrew, 59, said in an emailed statement he now recognised that his links to Epstein had become a “major disruption” to the royal family and the charities and organisations associated with it.

“Therefore, I have asked Her Majesty (the Queen) if I may step back from public duties for the foreseeable future, and she has given her permission,” he added.

“I continue to unequivocally regret my ill-judged association with Jeffrey Epstein.

“His suicide has left many unanswered questions, particularly for his victims, and I deeply sympathise with everyone who has been affected and wants some form of closure.

“I can only hope that, in time, they will be able to rebuild their lives. Of course, I am willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required.”

British telecoms giant BT earlier on Wednesday threatened to end its backing for an awards scheme unless the royal was dropped as patron.

Since the interview aired, the prince has been accused of lacking empathy for Epstein’s victims. Racist comments he made in the past have also been raised and there have been questions about his lavish taxpayer-funded lifestyle.

Some British media outlets have suggested that what is developing into the most high-profile royal scandal in years could even make it a second “Annus Horribilis” for the ageing monarch.

The queen used the term in a 1992 speech to refer to a year in which her Windsor Castle residence caught fire, both Andrew and her eldest son and heir Charles separated from their respective wives, and her only daughter, Anne, got divorced.

Last month, her grandson Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, announced plans to sue media outlets for alleged phone hacking and breach of privacy.

The BT warning on Wednesday came after three Australian universities — Bond, Murdoch and RMIT — severed ties with Prince Andrew’s Pitch@Palace charity to promote entrepreneurship.

Several UK-based businesses, including Standard Chartered and KPMG, have already announced they will not renew their support for the Pitch@Palace initiative.

London Metropolitan University was among others to say it would review the position of Andrew as its patron at its board of governors meeting next week.

Epstein, 66, was found dead in New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center on August 10 as he awaited trial on allegations that he trafficked girls as young as 14 for sex.

In the television interview, Andrew denied having sex with a 17-year-old girl allegedly procured by the disgraced millionaire financier.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn both expressed sympathy for Epstein’s victims during a televised general election debate on Tuesday night.

Asked further if the monarchy was “fit for purpose”, Johnson said only that it was “beyond reproach”. Veteran socialist Corbyn said it “needs a bit of improvement”.

Buckingham Palace has not commented directly on Andrew’s interview.

But a spokesman said the prince would be continuing his work supporting entrepreneurship, science, technology, young people and skills.

On the racism claims, one of which was made by a former British interior minister Jacqui Smith, the spokesman said Andrew had worked in the Middle East for years and had many friends from the region.

“He does not tolerate racism in any form,” he added.

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