On paper, they would appear to have a great deal in common. One, an aspirational ‘world king’, the other – a real one. Both committed environmentalists, King Charles III and Boris Johnson even shared the same mentor, the late Sir Eric Anderson, who taught them at Gordonstoun and Eton respectively. They both spent time at Geelong Grammar School’s outdoor-focused Timbertop campus in Australia in their formative years (the King spent two terms there in 1966, Johnson taught there on his gap year). And then, of course, there is their shared chequered marital history, with both men going on to wed their mistresses.
Yet the allegation that the former prime minister “squared up” to the then Prince of Wales after he branded the Government’s Rwanda deportation scheme “appalling” has shone a spotlight on the sometimes-testy relationship between these two rather complicated public figures. According to Guto Harri, No 10’s former head of communications, the ex-PM rounded on the then heir to the throne and warned him against interfering in politics during a 15-minute “showdown” at a Commonwealth summit in Rwanda last June. He also suggested that Johnson strongly warned the King against giving a speech on slavery, saying: “I’d be careful, or you’ll end up having to sell the Duchy of Cornwall to pay reparations for those who built it.” Relations, claims Harri, “never fully recovered.”
At the time, Downing Street denied there had been a row, with Johnson saying only that the two men had a “good old chinwag” – although it didn’t stop him publicly urging the King to keep “an open mind”. Yesterday, sources close to Johnson said he did not recognise Harri’s account, which features in his new podcast, Unprecedented, describing it as “inaccurate”. Regardless of what really happened in Kigali that day, there is no doubt that Johnson and the King crossed swords on more than just immigration policy. Politically opposed on a number of issues, as one insider put it: “Boris is very much a Telegraph man whereas Charles is more of a Guardianista. I think he saw the King as more of a Gordon Brown type.” Another source told The Spectator magazine that Johnson regarded the King “as a sort of royal version of John Major – fussy, wet and meddling.”
The tensions date back to Johnson’s years as mayor of London when he was famously 30 minutes late for his first meeting with the then Prince of Wales after taking the Tube in the wrong direction and being mobbed by a group of middle-aged Chinese tourists on the escalator. According to Harri, the ever-punctual Charles was “unimpressed”.
They would go on to wildly disagree over planning decisions. Avowedly “pro-build”, Johnson dismissed the King’s concerns about refusing more tower blocks as “absolutely crazy” and was contemptuous of the pastiche classical buildings designed by architects like Quinlan Terry, which the sovereign greatly admires.
Genetically modified foods, to which the monarch, 74, is publicly opposed, prove another pinch point, after Johnson recommended Britain be “liberated” from rules restricting their use. There have even been suggestions that Brexit may have played a part in the growing tensions between the pair, with the King allegedly expressing private concerns over the Johnson government’s handling of post-Brexit farm subsidies and free-trade deals.
It perhaps wasn’t helpful to Johnson for the King to write for The Guardian in 2021, highlighting how farming was going through a “massive transition” and “urging small farmers to band together to cope with the coming shocks”. Although he has never publicly expressed any Remain sympathies, the King, whose bloodline is half German, has always spoken fondly about the bond between Britain and Brussels, remarking during a trip to Berlin in 2020 as Johnson was still negotiating his Brexit deal: “No country is really an island.”
He also made a point of giving regular speeches to the European Parliament as heir apparent – a move that caused Nigel Farage to later remark: “I was at both speeches and was appalled at his call for the EU to have more power. He seemed to hold the EU institutions in high regard.” And two of his closest political allies, former Tory MPs Rory Stewart, who tutored Princes Harry and William and was at the Coronation, and Sir Nicholas Soames, his former equerry, are both sworn enemies of Johnson – as well as being committed Remainers. Johnson removed the Conservative whip from both politicians, who have since stepped down, during the Brexit wars. According to one former minister, “It was the talk of the Commons tearoom that the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh supported Brexit while Prince Charles and Prince William supported Remain, but it was only ever gossip. I don’t think the rumours had any basis in fact.”
The shift in power dynamics once Johnson became prime minister may also have had a bearing, according to someone close to him. “I can quite imagine Boris thinking, ‘I’m PM and you’re a royal so you should have no locus in any of my decision-making – it’s nothing to do with you’.” When in Downing Street, Johnson was said to be put out by the King’s underwhelming response to his plan to recommission a new royal yacht – and concerned by a story alleging he had accepted on behalf of his charitable fund €1 million in suitcases from visiting Arabs. Having had his own financial affairs placed under heavy scrutiny, he appeared to resent the fact that the King was not apparently required to play by the same rules.
Could jealousy also have been a factor in their uneasy association? Several allies of Johnson point to his closeness to Queen Elizabeth II – which was strongly in evidence even when he travelled to Balmoral to tender his resignation two days before she died last September. Although a previous visit to the Scottish Highlands in 2019 prompted courtiers to accuse the “unfocused” and “distracted” former prime minister of “disrespectful” behaviour after arriving in a “shambolic state” with his now-wife Carrie, his final meeting with the late Queen could not have been more cordial. The 96-year-old great-grandmother apparently went out of her way to counsel Johnson on what he should do next, advising him not to hold on to the things that had gone wrong. “She was extremely maternal towards him,” said one insider. “That last trip to Balmoral was quite momentous.”
Another source added: “The late Queen basically treated him like her naughty son. There was real warmth between them and a glint in her eye whenever they were together. Boris was a bit like a far brainer, less controversial version of Andrew – who was said to be her favourite. He really used to make her laugh.” Another added: “He was in awe of the late Queen, totally in awe. And I think he probably regarded Charles as inferior by comparison. Charles used to laugh at him whereas the Queen would laugh with him – I think that was the difference.”
Johnson would also poke fun at the King behind his back, allegedly veering off the agreed script during a pre-recorded BBC eulogy to Charles to joke: “I liked his Duchy Originals biscuits, and we must all hope he hasn’t taken the secret recipe with him to the grave.” Another ally confirmed: “He always got on very well with the late Queen, Camilla and the princes. When he was with William and Harry, they’d be larking about like three mischievous schoolboys, perhaps it was the old Etonian thing but there was never the same chemistry with Charles.”
So cordial were relations with Queen Camilla, that when the then London mayor went to visit her at Clarence House, she came out to the bike shed to meet him and later ended up opening two of the three new rape crisis centres he brought to the capital. It helped that Johnson has always been incredibly close to her nephew Ben Elliot, who served as his party co-chairman from 2019 to 2022. “I remember him remarking of Camilla, ‘What a great woman!’” added the ally. “They had a great relationship. It’s not the maddest idea that there may have been a bit of jealousy on Charles’s behalf. Boris is perhaps not the kind of bloke you want holding lengthy private meetings with your wife.”
Since Liz Truss hardly had enough time to get to know the King, it is now down to Rishi Sunak to repair the relationship but even that hasn’t started smoothly after the Prime Minister advised the King against attending Cop27 in Egypt and dragged him into the political fray during the signing of the Windsor Framework, when the Palace was forced to delay a meeting with Ursula von der Leyen. Yet he can surely count on more amiability with the Palace than the predecessor who took on the King in Kigali.
SOURCE: MSN news/The Telegraph Story by Camilla Tominey