A new book by journalist Ben Macintyre, The Spy and the Traitor, has revealed unexpected risks to national security posed by the British monarchy.
Macintyre tells how a plan to rescue a British agent from danger in Russia was put at risk because of a domestic problem in queen Windsor’s Scottish castle.
Charles Powell, an adviser to the prime minister Thatcher, was sent to get her agreement to the “ex-filtration” of a spy while the PM was staying at Windsor’s Scottish home. However, a Windsor “equerry” preoccupied with finding a video player so that the feudal head of state could watch “Dads’ Army”, a TV comedy, delayed Powell’s meeting with Thatcher. The urgent meeting to save the agent had to wait until Windsor could settle down to watch the comedy tape. Even then Windsor’s private secretary demanded to know why Powell had turned up unannounced at Windsor’s home.
The implications of this farcical approach to government are suggested by the author’s remark elsewhere in the book that “It was agreed that should a politician with a KGB history became prime minister of Britain, then the queen would have to be informed”.
How a figurehead head of state with no democratic legitimacy whose television watching takes priority over national security was to deal with such an event is not made clear.