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Sunday, 8 April, 2001, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
Sophie's troubles fuel monarchy debate
Sophie Wessex and Prince Edward
Sophie Wessex with her husband, Prince Edward
The Countess of Wessex's troubles in the wake of the "fake sheikh" interview have prompted renewed calls for reform of the monarchy.

One Labour MP called on the prime minister to review the structure and future constitutional role of the Royal Family.

Dr Tony Wright
Dr Tony Wright MP, calls for inquiry into monarchy
Dr Tony Wright, the chairman of the Commons public administration, argued that a government committed to reforming so many institutions should not ignore the monarchy.

But Downing Street said it was "100%" behind the monarchy and denied accusations it was encouraging the debate.

Dr Wright told BBC Radio 4's The World this Weekend: "The magic I'm afraid has gone.

"The daylight has come in. We now have to decide how and why we can make constitutional monarchy work."

The MP for Cannock Chase added: "My view is if we don't have something like a select committee, or a commission on the monarchy, it will be the end of the monarchy anyway."

Republic call

Jeremy Corbyn, the left-wing Labour MP for Islington North, repeated his calls for an elected head of state.

Is there anyone of us in public life who hasn't made a mistake?

Conservative leader William Hague

"I think it's time that we just moved on and said, when the current Queen completes her reign, wouldn't that be an appropriate time to call it a day and have an elected head of state, either by both Houses of Parliament, or by popular vote."

Before the full transcripts of the conversation between Sophie Wessex and an undercover reporter were published, two ministers had made comments critical of the Royal Family.


Consumer affairs minister Dr Kim Howells, the MP for Pontypridd, said they were "all a bit bonkers", while earlier in the week his boss, Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers, appeared to chide the countess.

He said: "Both for politicians and for members of the Royal Family it is important to make the distinction between public and private." Downing Street was indignant at suggestion it was stoking the debate.

A No 10 spokeswoman said: "The prime minister is 100% a supporter of the monarchy. Nothing that has happened in recent days changes that view."

Conservative leader William Hague - who along with Mr Blair was one of the public figures criticised by the countess in the secretly recorded interview - said Sophie Wessex had made a "mistake" - but that it was time to forget the story.

"Is there anyone of us in public life who hasn't made a mistake?" said Mr Hague.

"Well here one person has made a mistake, and it is unfortunate that a member of the Royal Family has been tricked by a journalist, well there we are."

Off message

Some royal experts saw a pattern in the extent of the criticism from Labour.

Dr Piers Brendon, a historian and author on royal affairs, said: "I think it is quite significant that somebody like Stephen Byers, who is generally so 'on message' that he wouldn't put a foot wrong, has spoken out in this fairly frank, if slightly coded way, against the monarchy."

Other MPs turned their anger on the press - Parliamentary Labour Party chairman Clive Soley accusing the Press Complaints Commission of failing to act decisively.

"Unless the PCC can demonstrate that it really is tough on the press, the only way forward is to make their own code statutory in some way - in other words, enforceable by law," Mr Soley told GMTV's Sunday Programme.

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