BT says it will stop backing digital skills award scheme unless Prince Andrew is dropped

The Duke of York during the presentation of the first bronze awards for the Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award in 2017 Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Telecoms giant BT has warned it will only continue to back a digital skills award scheme if the Duke of York is dropped as patron, as pressure mounts over the royal role of the Queen’s second son.

The firm joins a growing number of multimillion-pound businesses, universities and charities who have distanced themselves from Andrew in the wake of his interview about his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

BT called for Andrew to be removed as patron of iDEA – The Duke of York Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award – a programme which helps develop digital enterprise and employability skills.

A spokesperson for BT said the company had "been working with the company since its launch in 2017 and our dealings have been with its executive directors, not its patron, the Duke of York.

“As a leading provider of online digital skills training, iDEA was a natural partner for our new Skills for Tomorrow programme.

“However, in light of recent developments we are reviewing our relationship with the organisation and hope that we might be able to work further with them, in the event of a change in their patronage.”

In the interview, Prince Andrew denied claims he had slept with Virginia Giuffre. Credit: BBC

Andrew was accused of showing a lack of empathy towards Epstein’s victims and a lack of remorse over his friendship with the disgraced financier, who took his own life while imprisoned earlier this year.

In the Newsnight interview, the Duke also denied claims he slept with Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s victims, on three separate occasions, twice while she was under age.

Many backers and those involved with Pitch@Palace have ended their relationship with the initiative. Credit: PA

Also on Wednesday, Murdoch University in Perth announced it has ended its relationship with Andrew’s tech entrepreneurs initiative Pitch@Palace Australia, joining Bond University and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) who have also terminated their association, while the University of Wollongong (UoW) is reviewing its support.

A spokesperson for Murdoch University said the institution had "advised Buckingham Palace it would not continue its participation in Pitch@Palace in 2020.

“We remain committed to supporting innovators and entrepreneurs.

“However, in the current circumstances we have decided that our efforts in this area are best served through other means.”

Meanwhile a spokesperson for Bond said it had "previously said any new agreement would be considered in 2020.

"However, in light of recent events, the university does not intend to seek any further involvement.”

Pitch@Palace Australia did not respond to queries about its ongoing operation in the absence of partners.

Prince Andrew pictured with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein in New York in 2010. Credit: PA

Asian-focused bank Standard Chartered has joined KPMG in deciding not to renew its sponsorship of the Pitch@Palace scheme.

AstraZeneca’s three-year partnership with Pitch@Palace is due to expire at the end of this year and is being reviewed, and Outward Bound Trust, of which Andrew is patron, is to hold a board meeting in the next few days to discuss the matter.

Pitch@Palace has also removed its web page listing corporate supporters amid a swathe of backers saying they are considering their positions.

The developments come after London Metropolitan University said it would consider the Duke’s role as its patron, while a student panel at Huddersfield University passed a motion to lobby Andrew to resign as its chancellor.

The Duke of York in Tadcaster following flooding in 2016 Credit: PA

The Duke cancelled a visit to flood-ravaged communities in South Yorkshire on Wednesday, The Sun and the Daily Mirror reported.

Amid the unravelling of the duke’s position, former home secretary Jacqui Smith made fresh claims of racism, saying Andrew made “racist comments about Arabs that were unbelievable” at a Buckingham Palace state banquet.

A Buckingham Palace spokesperson said in response to the claim: “HRH has undertaken a considerable amount of work in the Middle East over a period of years and has many friends from the region.

"He does not tolerate racism in any form.”

He added that Andrew would be continuing his role focusing on tech entrepreneurs.