London: The Duke of York, Prince Andrew, is being used as a secret weapon by Buckingham Palace to defuse potential diplomatic disasters during the state visit of Donald Trump.
In what has been labelled “golf-course diplomacy”, British officials have taken the unusual step of ensuring the Duke is alongside the president for two of the three days he is in the UK.
It is hoped the pair’s shared passion for business - but more importantly, their mutual love of golf - will help them bond, letting the prince exert a subtle influence over the politician.
They met nearly 20 years ago when the Duke visited Trump and his then girlfriend Melania Knauss at the businessman’s $200 million (Dh734 million) Mar-a-Lago estate and golf course in Palm Beach, Florida.
They were both friends with Jeffrey Epstein, a wealthy financier, who was also a regular at the complex. The Duke’s work as the UK’s special representative for international trade and investment has meant he has, like the president, rubbed shoulders with many leading entrepreneurs. But their golf obsession is expected to prove pivotal in forging their friendship.
It has been estimated Trump has spent more than 100 days of his presidency playing the game. Shortly before his last UK visit it was rumoured he would play a round with the Duke at his Turnberry course. The Duke, who has played top courses around the world, has honed his game to such an extent he is qualified to play it professionally.
In recent weeks there have been increasing concerns that Trump’s state visit could be hampered by protests as well as by personality clashes.
His vehement opposition to claims that the planet is undergoing irreparable climate change is expected to put him on a collision course with the Prince of Wales, who passionately supports environmental causes. Fears were compounded yesterday when Trump breached diplomatic protocol by airing personal and occasionally controversial opinions in The Sun.
As well as appearing to throw his weight behind Boris Johnson as the next prime minister, the president expressed his eagerness to discuss climate policies with the Prince. In the interview he boasted about the “clean” air and water in America, despite recent studies suggesting the opposite.
He also called comments made by the Duchess of Sussex “nasty” after he was told of her opposition to his presidency. In 2016, she called Trump misogynistic, branded his style of politics “divisive” and hinted she would move to Canada if he became US president. She was also open in her support for his Democrat rival, Hillary Clinton. Asked if he was aware of her comments, Trump told the newspaper: “I didn’t know that. What can I say? I didn’t know that she was nasty.”