By Ian Dunt
Prince Andrew's role as Britain's special trade representative seemed increasingly untenable today after he came under sustained attack for his personal relationships.
Government ministers have been shocked by his business links with American billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who served a prison sentence for soliciting an underage girl for prostitution.
A picture released last week showed the prince with his arm around a 17-year-old girl who claims she was sexually exploited by Epstein and his associates. The girl said the prince had massages at Epstein's house.
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The prince categorically denies any wrongdoing or impropriety.
Publicly the government has offered its support to the prince, with both foreign secretary William Hague and business secretary Vince Cable speaking of his accomplishments.
But there are rumours behind the scenes that the prince could lose his trade role and opposition figures have been far more open in publically attacking his conduct.
In a sign of confusion about which approach to take, the prime minister's spokesman insisted there was no review of the princes' role.
"We fully support Prince Andrew in his role as trade envoy. Our position is very clear," he said.
Meanwhile, former Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant was attacking the prince in colourful terms.
"I think the charge list now against him is so long that he's a bit of an embarrassment and I just can't imagine the next time it's proposed that he goes to a foreign country what the ambassador would think," he said.
"The truth is, we shouldn't be using him for these delegations any more."
Speaking to the Today programme, Mr Cable was more cautious, although he did allude to the prince's need to consider his position.
"He is a volunteer, he has offered to perform these roles," the business secretary said.
"I think it's down to him, essentially, to judge the position he wants to be in."
Mr Cable went on to support the prince.
"He has been involved in three of four activities that I've seen particular in relation to senior executives in India, and he's played a very positive role in that and made them feel welcome, give them support and I've personally got no criticisms of what he's done," he said.
"And I think we need to remember he's doing this as a volunteer, he's not a government appointee, he's not somebody who is appointed and sacked. And I think the assessment of businesses I've seen who've worked with him is he's been supportive and helpful."
Mr Hague was also supportive in television interviews over the weekend.
"I've seen a lot of benefits that he has brought in countries that I have visited where he's been performing that role," he told the Politics Show.
"I'm not an expert on what you say are the embarrassments, I haven't had time, with everything going on in the Middle East, to look at those things. But certainly I've seen around the world a lot of good that he has done for this country."