Prince Andrew, sacked as UK business envoy, victim of WikiLeaks?

Tough times for the Empire. Britain's Prince Andrew will step down from his role as the United Kingdom's trade ambassador, Buckingham Palace announced today.

"The prince is expected to announce that he will concentrate on boosting skills training and apprenticeships in Britain in future, in what is bound to be seen as a significant downgrading of his role," the Guardian reported.

The royal demotion follows the recent debut of the reality show featuring his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson on the Oprah television network. It also comes after the British government was embarrassed by unflattering descriptions of Prince Andrew's "astonishingly candid" comments bashing the French and anti-corruption investigators while on a 2008 visit to Central Asia, as described in U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks last year.

"Astonishingly candid, the discussion at times verged on the rude [on the British side]," wrote U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Tatiana Gfoeller in the October 2008 cable, describing the two-hour lunch meeting she attended featuring the Duke of York.

Regaled with complaints at the meeting from British businesspeople about Kyrgyz corruption, "the Duke of York laughed uproariously, saying that: 'All of this sounds exactly like France,'" the U.S. Ambassador wrote.

Then turning to the subject of "the Great Game"—the world powers' historical quest for influence in Central Asia—Prince Andrew "stated baldly that 'the United Kingdom, Western Europe (and by extension you Americans too') were now back in the thick of playing the Great Game," Amb. Gfoeller wrote. "More animated than ever, he stated cockily: 'And this time we aim to win!'"

"Without contradicting him, the ambassador gently reminded him that the United States does not see its presence in the region as a continuation of the Great Game," the U.S. envoy relayed in her cable back to Washington.

In the future, "Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge are expected to take a greater part in promoting trade during their future foreign trips," the Guardian reported.

One communications executive wrote to take issue with the characterization, arguing Prince Andrew is just shifting his focus.

"Reading the Annual Review by HRH The Duke of York and his focus for the year ahead, it does not look like he is quitting whatsoever - rather stepping up his activities for the benefit of UK business," Ronel Lehmann said in an e-mail Friday from his eponymous firm. "We should be grateful for his support right in the middle of a recession, rather than keeping reflecting on the past. Those who know and have worked with him, strongly believe that what he has done is doing for UK business is the envy of the rest of the world."