“After the Iran hostage debacle,” wrote Toby Harnden in the American journal, National Review blog “the corner”
on 17 May,2007, “ we now have another PR disaster that will leave many wondering what the hell is going on with the British armed forces.” Mr. Harnden echoed the views of many when he added:
“The only person who emerges with any dignity is Prince Harry himself, who must now be considering resigning his commission.”
In this column of 30 April 2007, we criticised the Chief of the UK General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, for speaking publicly against government policy in Iraq. We said this was against constitutional convention, and any such views should be put to the ministry, and not the press. More recently, on 17 May 2007, we concluded that Sir Richard would have to accept responsibility for what Mr. Harnden described as “another PR disaster.”
However a reading of Sir Richard’s statement at the time indicates an acceptance of the error and a willingness to correct it in the future. According to The Royalist of 16 May 2007, Sir Richard included this observation in his statement announcing his decision not to allow the Prince to go to Iraq: "I have to add that a contributing factor to this increase in threat to Prince Harry has been the widespread knowledge and discussion of his deployment. It is a fact that this close scrutiny has exacerbated the situation and this is something that I wish to avoid in future."
The clear implication is that things will be handled differently in the future. Remember, it was the Ministry of Defence website which revealed that the Prince – the third in line to the throne – was to serve with the Blues and Royals for a six-month tour of duty and would have taken command of four Scimitar armoured vehicles with 11 men under his command. This was extraordinary – the enemy were actually being provided with intelligence by the UK authorities.
According to The Observer of 20 May, 2007, future information about the deployment of Prince Harry to a war zone will be censored if the UK government agrees to a MOD proposal that future information surrounding his military career is covered by a D-notice, which would ban its publication. And now the mass circulation British weekly The News of the World of 20 May 2007 claims it has information about the new plans for him to serve in Afghanistan, but says it is withholding key details. Let’s hope the tabloid keeps it that way. As we understand it, compliance with a D notice is voluntary.
Prince Harry has emerged from this affair with his dignity and his honour intact, and with strong support around the world. The News of the World put this question to its readers: “Should Prince Harry still be allowed to fight?” Seventy two per cent of those who responded were in favour. In the meantime the MOD has re- learned the somewhat elementary lesson well known to its predecessors: never give the enemy an even break.