Prince William signals support for Britain staying in the EU as David Cameron holds last-ditch Brussels talks
Prince William drawn into the EU referendum debate as he has describes Britain as an 'outward looking nation'
The Duke of Cambridge has described Britain as an "outward looking nation" with a "proud tradition of seeking out allies" in comments that drew him into the EU referendum debate, reports Gordon Rayner and Peter Dominiczak.
On the day that David Cameron began last-ditch talks in Brussels to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU, the Duke said the UK's sense of adventure "continues to drive our economy", in what appeared to be a direct address to Eurosceptics.
The timing of his comments, just days before the Prime Minister's expected announcement of the EU referendum date, echo the Queen's intervention on the eve of the Scottish referendum, when she urged Scots to "think very carefully about the future" in a highly-orchestrated hint that they should vote to remain part of the Union.
The Duke did not mention the EU in his speech and Kensington Palace said the timing of his remarks was "completely coincidental".
But supporters of the ‘In’ campaign for Britain’s membership of the EU said it showed that “people from all walks of life” were backing a Yes vote for the UK to stay in the European Union.
The Duke, 33, was speaking at a pre-arranged engagement where he was handing out awards to graduates of the Foreign Office's Diplomatic Academy, set up a year ago as a centre of excellence to school diplomatic staff.
Downing Street sources said they were “taken by surprise” by the comments and the Foreign Office said that it had not seen a copy of the speech in advance.
However, a Whitehall source who heard the remarks said they “were not exactly coded”.
Speaking in the presence of Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, the Duke said: "For centuries, Britain has been an outward looking nation. Hemmed in by sea, we have always sought to explore what is beyond the horizon.
"That sense of mission and curiosity is something that I know continues to drive our economy, our cultural and educational exports and our Armed Forces and Diplomatic Service. And wherever we go, we have a long and proud tradition of seeking out allies and partners.
The Duke was shown around by the Foreign Secretary
"In an increasingly turbulent world, our ability to unite in common action with other nations is essential. It is the bedrock of our security and prosperity and is central to your work.
"Right now, the big questions with which you wrestle – in the UN, NATO, the Middle East and elsewhere – are predicated on your commitment to working in partnership with others."
A Kensington Palace spokesman said: "This speech is not about Europe. He does not mention the word Europe once."
The Duke's visit to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was announced a fortnight ago, long after Mr Cameron's visit to Brussels had been arranged.
The Queen's own support for the EU was made clear in a speech she made during her State visit to Germany last year.
On that occasion she said that "division in Europe is dangerous" and lauded Britain's "irreversible" friendship with Germany.
A royal source said: "He was speaking to a roomful of diplomats and he was bound to refer to their work. He did not mention the EU once and any suggestion that he was referring to Britain's EU membership is completely unfounded.
"Talking about 'working in partnership' and 'our ability to unite in common action' is not expressing a political view. The speech praises the work of the young diplomats he was speaking to."