On the eve of today’s Countryside Alliance march in London, it was revealed that the heir to the throne wrote to Tony Blair expressing anger at the government for pursuing plans to outlaw the bloodsport in England.
It is understood the Prince, a passionate hunt supporter, told Blair that he "would not dare attack an ethnic minority in the way that supporters of fox hunting were being persecuted."
In an outburst overheard by a senior politician, the Prince is also alleged to have said: "If Labour bans hunting I’ll leave Britain and spend the rest of my life skiing."
The politician was left in no doubt that Charles was serious. "It certainly wasn’t said in jest - he gave the impression that he meant it," the politician said.
The Prince’s comparison of the treatment of fox hunters to minorities such as black and Asian communities has caused uproar in senior government circles.
Blair’s anger was spelled out last night when Downing Street made it clear that Charles has no right to lecture him on how to run the country.
The PM’s official spokesman said in a terse statement: "We would never comment on any correspondence or communication between the Prime Minister and a member of the Royal Family. The government continues to govern for the whole country, urban and rural alike."
In effect, the reply told the Prince to keep out of party politics and not abuse the long-held constitutional principle that the monarchy should not interfere in government legislation.
The dispute is a dramatic illustration of Charles’s deeply-held views on the issue. He and his partner, Camilla Parker Bowles, have defied criticism from field sport opponents by continuing to ride regularly with the Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt, which meets a few miles from his Highgrove home in Gloucestershire. Princes William and Harry have hunted too.
Ministers expressed outrage at the Prince’s letter. "Charles has got a bloody cheek writing to the PM in such inflammatory tones" said one. "To compare fox hunting to ethnic minorities defies belief. The man has lost all sense of proportion."
But allies of Charles defended his action. "Charles has spent his entire life standing up for rural communities. He feels that they have been treated very badly by successive governments. He is proud to defend fox hunting. For many Labour MPs, this is nothing to do with animal rights - it is a class issue of attacking people who dress up in red jackets. Any other minority would have their rights respected."
A spokesperson for Prince Charles said: "The Prince may well have written to the Prime Minister about fox hunting."
Asked about the Prince’s remarks making a comparison between the treatment of fox hunters and other minorities she said "I have never heard him use those words. The Prince often corresponds with the Prime Minister privately."
Meanwhile, animal rights campaigners have drawn up detailed plans to monitor fox hunts in Scotland following new evidence that hounds are still being allowed to kill their prey.
Hunting foxes with hounds was supposed to have been outlawed by MSPs last February after one of the most contentious votes in the Scottish parliament’s history.
Although Scotland’s 10 hunts are still allowed to legally operate, foxes flushed out by dogs should now be shot by marksmen instead of being savaged to death by the pack.
But both the Buccleuch hunt and the Jedforest hunts in the Borders have admitted allowing their packs to kill foxes since hunting resumed last month.
Huntsmen have claimed they are allowed to do so under certain provisions of Lord Watson’s Protection of Wild Mammals Bill. But animal rights groups said the hunts were "flouting the spirit of the law" which was aimed at preventing foxes being torn to death.
Trevor Adams, joint manager and Master of the foxhounds for the Buccleuch hunt, said the hunt had been out regularly since August. Of 30 foxes caught, 25 had been shot and five despatched by the hounds.