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Buckingham Palace removes Prince Andrew's titles in wake of sexual assault lawsuit

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Britain's Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, is right now a prince without military titles or royal patronages. He's no longer referred to as His Royal Highness in any official capacity. Buckingham Palace announced these changes after a ruling from a New York judge earlier this month allowing a lawsuit against the prince to move forward. Virginia Giuffre claims that financier Jeffrey Epstein arranged for Andrew to sexually abuse her multiple times when she was a minor, allegations Prince Andrew has repeatedly denied. In a statement earlier this month, the royal family said Andrew is, quote, "defending this case as a private citizen."

Here to talk about the distance between the queen's second son and the institution of the monarchy is Sonia Sodha. She's columnist at The Observer, published by The Guardian, and joins us now from London. Welcome to the program.

SONIA SODHA: Thank you for having me on, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: This is maybe the most significant action the palace has taken regarding Prince Andrew since 2019, when it was announced that he would no longer perform royal public duties. But you recently wrote that the removal of his titles should not be a reason to praise the royal family. Tell us why.

SODHA: So I think the royal family left it till the last possible minute to do this, when it was clear that the lawsuit was going forwards because a judge in the New York court sort of threw out some iffy attempts by Prince Andrew's lawyers to sort of get the case quashed. And I think it's something they should have done a while ago when these allegations first emerged. Of course, one reading of this is, you know, these are allegations. Prince Andrew is, like everyone else, innocent until proven guilty. So why do they need to act before this?

But I think that Prince Andrew has already done a lot to bring the royal family into disrepute, things that we know about - so the fact that he has socialized with Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell over the years, and in particular, he gave an absolutely terrible, disastrous interview to the BBC back in 2019, where he failed to show very little empathy with Epstein's victims. And it seemed to be more about protesting his innocence and making clear that he was an innocent man. So for me, I'm afraid, that was more than enough to think that the royal family should have acted before this point.

MCCAMMON: Maxwell, of course, was the woman found guilty of helping Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse girls. Why do you think, Sonia, that the queen has finally made this decision? Is it just about public backlash?

SODHA: Well, I think it's completely untenable for the queen not to do this, given, I think, what we're going to see as a result of this case moving forward. And yet obviously, it's not clear yet whether it will actually proceed or whether it may be thrown out on another technicality, whether Prince Andrew will appeal the decision that judge has already made. But what is clear is that there's going to be much more focus on Prince Andrew as a result of this moving forward from this point onward. And there's going to be much more scrutiny applied to some of Prince Andrew's claims.

So that is going to bring the royal family into great disrepute, so I think she had no choice but to take the action that she's taken. And I think the thing to say about the queen is she has shown in the past that she's willing to be fairly ruthless when it comes to members of her own family, when it comes to protecting the institution of the monarchy.

MCCAMMON: Right. You write not only about royal power, but male power here. And you describe, quote, "the grim familiarity in the wielding of male power." Prince Andrew, you know, holds different types of power here in this situation. How did that inform his reactions to Giuffre's allegations?

SODHA: Well, I'm afraid that I think the way that Prince Andrew has reacted is quite typical of men who are accused of these sorts of crimes. And obviously, we don't know yet whether these allegations stand up in a court of law, but I think it's important to say that we know that Virginia Giuffre was a victim of Epstein and Maxwell. And I think the tactics that he has used to go after her - they look very, very bad. They're tactics that other men who are guilty of crimes have used, men like Harvey Weinstein, for example. The sorts of things that he's tried to do is, you know, discredit Giuffre. And I just think that these tactics - I mean, you know, some might say, well, look; if Andrew really is innocent, what choice does he have but to sort of throw mud to this woman who is accusing him? But I think if he is innocent, he should just look to tell the truth and stand up his side of the story without casting mud on her. And I think it looks extremely bad.

MCCAMMON: As we mentioned earlier, Prince Andrew is defending this lawsuit as a private citizen, not as royalty. And there could be various outcomes - a settlement, maybe a trial. Regardless of the legal outcome, do you think that Andrew's role in the institution of the royal family is over?

SODHA: Yes. I think it's over. I don't think you can come back from this.

MCCAMMON: That's Sonia Sodha, columnist at The Observer, which is published by The Guardian. Thank you for being with us.

SODHA: No problem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.