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Britain's Prince Andrew is stripped of his royal patronages and military titles


Britain's royal family is once again in damage control. Buckingham Palace announced yesterday that Prince Andrew, the second son of Queen Elizabeth, will defend himself as a private citizen against sexual assault allegations in a possible civil trial. Andrew has returned his military titles and royal charities to the queen. Later this year, he could face allegations in a Manhattan courtroom that he had sex with a 17-year-old girl who was trafficked by the prince's friend, the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Andrew has denied all wrongdoing. We've got NPR's Frank Langfitt with us from London. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Why is the royal family making these moves now?

LANGFITT: Well, I think their hand was pretty much forced. On Wednesday, the judge in New York rejected Andrew's motion to dismiss this lawsuit. So as you were saying, this could go to a civil trial. And they need to distance themselves as quickly as possible from the prince. They were also under pressure. There was this letter that came in before the announcement. More than 150 veterans of British Armed Services wrote an open letter to the queen. And I want to read a little bit of this to you. They say, we are particularly upset and angry that Prince Andrew remains a member of the armed forces. Were this any other senior military officer, it is inconceivable that he'd still be in the post. And then they go on to say, basically, we understand this is your son. But, please, do not let this go on any longer.

MARTIN: Wow. It is not a done deal, though, that this case makes it to trial at all, right?

LANGFITT: No. And I think that there's a great interest, probably, in the prince and the royal family to settle this some way. The media attention, if this actually were to go to trial, would be enormous and damaging to the royal family, for sure. He may certainly try to settle. But the lawyer for the plaintiff, her name is Virginia Giuffre. But the lawyer says she probably will want more than money, and said probably something that vindicates her and other victims of Jeffrey Epstein. Today, Giuffre tweeted this. She said, my goal has always been to show that the rich and powerful are not above the law and must be held accountable.

MARTIN: This is obviously so complicated for the royal family, right? And the queen, this is her second son. She lost her husband last year. I mean, she's got a lot going on. What is the royal family's strategy going forward?

LANGFITT: I think their strategy is to try to make the public see the civil case as Andrew's problem and not theirs. And the timing of this is really important. This year, the queen is going to celebrate her platinum jubilee. That's 70 years on the throne. That's longer than any British monarch. We're talking Queen Victoria, George III, who, of course, was the king during the American Revolutionary War. There are all kinds of celebrations in the works. I'll give you an example, baking competition. People are going to try to create the best pudding that will be named after the queen. In June, there'll be a four-day bank holiday. And bluntly, they don't want Andrew's legal proceedings clouding these celebrations.

MARTIN: But, I mean, as we know, the royal family has had a time of it recently.

LANGFITT: Oh, it's been a terrible few years. Yeah.

MARTIN: Yeah. I mean, their reputation just as a whole, the monarchy, has been tainted.

LANGFITT: It has. But, you know, I don't think Andrew's going to sink the royal family at all. The queen remains very popular. Her ratings are 76% in terms of approval here. Prince Charles, who's next in line to the throne, though, he only polls around 45% percent. He's not that popular. So the queen is now 95. When she passes and Charles presumably takes over, it's going to be a challenge for him to modernize and keep the monarchy relevant to the people here.

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.