The Duke of York must be replaced as patron of his flagship Pitch@Palace initiative in order to salvage its reputation, key sponsors have told the Telegraph.
An emergency meeting was held on Tuesday evening at which the Duke’s aides sought to reassure the project’s key financial backers.
His staff insisted that the Duke would remain at the helm of the Dragon's Den-style initiative he founded in 2014.
But several sponsors have warned the palace needs to take charge of the crisis engulfing the Duke, and by association, his entrepreneurship scheme.
“It is the sponsors’ view that the programme itself can survive with a new patron, but only with a new patron,” one told the Telegraph.
“We feel it would be a huge shame if this programme was to fall by the wayside. The Palace needs to salvage the programme to keep the sponsors on board.”
It came as Buckingham Palace pulled the Duke out of a planned visit to flood-stricken parts of the UK on Tuesday following the car-crash interview over his friendship with Jeffrey Esptein, the convicted sex offender.
And a number of prospective MPs questioned the Duke’s future as a working royal, with Liberal Democrat Chuka Umunna calling on him to retire from public life, saying he had “done more to undermine the monarchy than any other person in his lifetime”.
The development came amid a growing backlash over the Duke’s ill-fated Newsnight interview exploring his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sex offender.
Several more businesses and charities have pulled the plug on their links with the Pitch@Palace project with many others considering their position.
Standard Chartered Bank confirmed it would not be renewing its support of the scheme while Advertising Week Europe, which organises a global summit of marketing and communications leaders, said it would not be inviting Pitch@Palace to be part of its 2020 meeting.
London Metropolitan University said the Duke’s position as its patron would be reviewed at its next board of governors meeting next week.
Both the British Exploring Society and the Golf Foundation said they were closely “monitoring the situation” and would be discussed the Duke’s patronage imminently with their respective boards.
Students at Huddersfield University passed a motion to lobby the Duke to resign as Chancellor.
It came after partners including KPMG and AstraZeneca pulled the plug on their links with the initiative and the Outward Bound Trust called an emergency board meeting to consider his patronage.
Pitch@Palace, whose directors include Amanda Thirsk, the Duke’s private secretary and the driving force behind the BBC interview, is believed to have insisted that the project was not threatened and that future programmes would go ahead as planned.
One person with knowledge of last night’s meeting said beleaguered palace aides were planning a robust defence of the initiative and the Duke’s position as patron.
They said: “No-one is going to renew contracts at the moment.”
The Duke had been due to tour waterlogged Fishlake and Stainforth in South Yorkshire on Tuesday but the visit was cancelled at the last minute.
A local council source said: “He was supposed to come to Fishlake and Stainforth. There were a couple of things he’d been lined up to do - meet emergency workers who have been helping out with the relief effort and make contact with others involved on the ground but the visit was pulled. It was pulled by the palace.”
A royal aide insisted the visit was cancelled because it would have clashed with an appearance by Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers and under purdah pre-election rules, members of the royal family must be seen as non-partisan.
"The Duke was due to attend to offer his support and thanks to the emergency services but with an election campaign and a politician also visiting it was not appropriate for the visit to continue,” they said.”
Buckingham Palace has not confirmed whether the Duke’s visit would be rescheduled. When Boris Johnson visited Stainforth last week, he was heckled by residents for admonished him for not coming sooner.
Ordinarily Prince Charles would be expected to visit flood-stricken areas in the aftermath of a deluge but the heir to the throne has been in India and is currently on tour in New Zealand with his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.