Boris 'squared up to Charles' in row over slavery says ex-No.10 media chief

9 May 2023, 06:35 | Updated: 9 May 2023, 07:07

Unprecedented: Inside Downing Street - a new Global Player podcast

By Will Taylor

Boris Johnson "squared up" to King Charles over a speech the royal wanted to make about slavery and made a warning that caused a rift that never fully recovered, the ex-PM's communications director has exclusively revealed.

Guto Harri has spoken for the first time about the explosive confrontation between Mr Johnson and the then-Prince of Wales as he launches his new podcast, Unprecedented: Inside Downing Street, on Global Player.

Mr Harri, who was director of communications between February and September 2022 - the final months of Mr Johnson's time in No10 - recalled how the head of government 'went in quite hard', resulting in a falling out between the PM and the now-head of state during an overseas trip.

"Signs of Coronation celebrations are still visible all over central London – the bunting is still up and the Union Jack still hoisted on every flag pole.

Guto Harri joins Nick Ferrari at Breakfast on LBC from 7am. Listen live on Global Player

"Things were not so celebratory when Boris and the soon-to-be King went to Kigali, Rwanda. Prince Charles, as he was then, had criticised the government's approach to small boats.

"He was also planning a speech on slavery. Boris squared up, confronted him and warned him 'I'd be careful' he said, 'or you'll end up having to sell the Duchy of Cornwall to pay reparations for those who built it.' Relations never fully recovered."

Listen and subscribe to Unprecedented: Inside Downing Street on Global Player from Thursday, May 11

Boris 'squared up to Charles' in row over slavery says ex-No.10 media chief
Boris 'squared up to Charles' in row over slavery says ex-No.10 media chief. Picture: LBC

Mr Harri's new six-part podcast will reveal the inner workings of Government from his experiences at the heart of Mr Johnson's Downing Street operation during its final few months.

The tumultuous ending saw him try to cling on as he faced constant questions about his handling of Partygate and then a raft of resignations as his ministers felt they could no longer support him.

The series will also feature exclusive interviews.

Listen and subscribe to Unprecedented: Inside Downing Street on Global Player from Thursday May 11

Listen and subscribe to LBC on Global Player
Listen and subscribe to LBC on Global Player. Picture: Global Player

Mr Harri said: "It's hard to think of a more turbulent period in British politics, with such a fascinating character at the helm. We all saw the scandals but there's so much more to report and we owe it to history to provide the insight and perspective that comes from having a ringside seat on the inside."

Vicky Etchells, head of news and factual podcasts for Global Player, said: "The premiership of Boris Johnson encapsulates a time like no other. From the war in Ukraine to the Covid pandemic, Guto Harri, one of Johnson's closest allies and former Director of Comms, had a front row seat to it all and I’m delighted he is sharing his story for the first time on Unprecedented.

"In this gripping political memoir podcast series Guto will take listeners into the rooms where decisions that affected us all are made and shine a light on the inner workings of one of the most turbulent governments we have witnessed in modern history."

Boris 'squared up to Charles' in row over slavery says ex-No.10 media chief
Boris 'squared up to Charles' in row over slavery says ex-No.10 media chief. Picture: LBC / Alamy

Both Mr Johnson and Charles had been in Kigali for a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in June 2022.

At the time, Mr Johnson had launched the Government's bid to send asylum seekers to Rwanda despite criticism of the African country's human rights record.

It was reported that Charles had called the plan "appalling", had repeatedly criticised it in private, said was said to be "more than disappointed by it".

Read more: 'Pa, we are all so proud of you': Prince William pays tribute to King Charles and late Queen during coronation concert

Clarence House said at the time that Charles is politically neutral.

Mr Johnson had said he would make the "point" that the plan had "obvious merits" during their meeting in Kigali.

Charles gave a speech on slavery despite Boris Johnson's warnings
Charles gave a speech on slavery despite Boris Johnson's warnings. Picture: Alamy

But a spokesperson later said the issue would not be brought up.

During his trip, Charles said in a speech: "I cannot describe the depths of my personal sorrow at the suffering of so many, as I continue to deepen my own understanding of slavery's enduring impact."

Most recently, the King announced he was welcoming an independent study into the monarchy's links to the slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Buckingham Palace said the King is taking the issue "profoundly seriously" and embraced the study.

The research is being carried out by The University of Manchester, which has been granted full access to Royal Archives and the Royal Collection.

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