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Home News Why can’t Charles pay for his own coronation now that we know how incredibly wealthy he is?
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Why can’t Charles pay for his own coronation now that we know how incredibly wealthy he is?

Photo by Jonas Leupe on Unsplash

I do care, perhaps not for the same reasons as that small minority of Britons, but because it is estimated that the whole event will cost up to £100m and – in line with self-serving royal traditions in this country – the bill will be picked up by the taxpayer, not the super-rich royals.

Why are we having a coronation, anyway? No other European monarchy bothers. The last one in Spain was in 1555, and the Scandinavian monarchies in Denmark, Sweden and Norway had all deemed the archaic practice unnecessary by 1906.

There is no legal need for a coronation. Charles is king without it. That was sealed in the days after the Queen’s death at the accession council, which I attended as a privy counsellor (though naturally none of us got a vote).

In any case, the royal palace in Europe that pulls in most tourists is Versailles, and the French got rid of their monarchy in 1848. We could probably get more tourists into Buckingham Palace if the royals were no longer there.

Incidentally, did you know that while the taxpayer is coughing up for the coronation and an additional £369m for a gold-plated, bells and whistles refurbishment of the palace, both King Charles and William, the Prince of Wales, have private estates that have yielded more than £1bn in the past.

When I asserted on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that the Duchy of Cornwall estate should be regarded as public, not private, within an hour there was an intervention from St James’s Palace to demand acorrection, which was provided. If it is a “private” estate, how come it pays no corporation tax, as every private estate does?

But then the royals have form in lobbying to change the law in their favour, the only consistent thread being to take as much money as they can from the public and pay out as little of their own as possible. Truly, we have a royal mint and a national debt.

The recent Guardian revelation that Charles has a sprawling estate of properties at Sandringham worth £75m is depressingly unsurprising. The British royal family, unlike other European monarchies, has a huge property portfolio.

How have they managed to accumulate this? After all, until the passing of the Crown Private Estates Act 1800, the king was not allowed to own any property.

The answer in the case of Sandringham and Balmoral is clear. Early in Victoria’s reign, her husband, Prince Albert, went cap in hand to the government, arguing that the money provided to the Queen was insufficient for her to discharge her duties. The government coughed up, as governments nearly always do, in the face of royal pleading. However, the extra money was used by Victoria and Albert not to discharge their duties, but to buy Sandringham and Balmoral.

As the MP who in 2008 helped lift the lid on the abuse of taxpayers’ money by MPs, I recognise Albert and Victoria’s behaviour as using public money for improper private gain. It is called fiddling your expenses.

Then there is the crown estate, which was handed over to the public in 1760 by George III in return for an annual civil list payment to him of £800,000, an enormous sum in those days.

As far back as the 1980s, the royal family lobbied to reconnect their funding to the crown estate profits. But the family finally got their way under David Cameron and George Osborne. Under this arrangement, the civil list was replaced by the sovereign grant, linked to the profits of the crown estate. The result is that a civil list payment of £7.9m in 2011 had become one of £86.3m last year, helped by a massive windfall from a windfarm development on the crown estate seabed.

The public largesse here is way in excess of that made available to other European monarchies. Compare this figure of £86.3m with that of the next biggest, the Netherlands at £44m and one of the smallest, Spain, £7.4m.

And add to that the exemption from taxes like death duties, and the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, and it is not difficult to see how Charles’s personal fortune is now well in excess of a billion pounds.

Charles says he wants to modernise the monarchy. If he is serious, he can start by paying tax on the gigantic inheritance from his mother – the racehorses, the paintings and the rest. And he can pay for his own coronation. After all, he can afford it.

Norman Baker was the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes from 1997 to 2015

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