Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 February 2020

Prince Harry and Meghan: Britain’s royal family hit with fresh crisis

The couple have said they are stepping back from their roles as senior royals

(L-R) The Duchess of Cornwall, Queen Elizabeth II, the Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry at Buckingham Palace in July 2018. AFP
(L-R) The Duchess of Cornwall, Queen Elizabeth II, the Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry at Buckingham Palace in July 2018. AFP

Britain’s royal family were scrambling on Thursday to deal with a fresh crisis after Prince Harry and his wife Meghan’s announcement that they will be stepping back from their roles as senior royals.

The couple, known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, did not consult Queen Elizabeth II, Harry’s grandmother, or any other senior royal before making the shock statement on Wednesday evening.

Buckingham Palace responded with a statement saying that discussions with the couple are “at an early stage”.

"We understand their desire to take a different approach but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through," it said.

The royal family are said to be hurt and disappointed by the move, which saw the couple launch a new website to outline their “progressive new role” in the monarchy.

Buckingham Palace said discussions with the royal couple were in the "early stages". AFP
Buckingham Palace said discussions with the royal couple were in the "early stages". AFP

Royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams said the Sussexes’ decision not to inform the royal family before releasing the statement to the public was “irresponsible” and the Queen would feel “betrayed”.

“It raises a lot of questions. If you’re going to have role in the UK and North America, it means more residencies, more security, it means a split royal family,” he told The National.

“To do this without pre-planning is unforgivable because all of this needs to be organised and will involve taxpayers’ money. We do not know where this is going in the long run, although we do know that they were very unhappy. But to do this to an institution like the royal family, it is the equivalent of going rogue.

“It is a real blow to the Queen and no doubt, she will feel betrayed.”

The announcement comes weeks after Harry’s uncle, Prince Andrew, said he would be stepping back from royal duties following a scandal about his friendship with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.

The Sussexes said that they would continue to “honour our duty to the Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages" but planned to split their time between the UK and North America.

Meghan, who was brought up in Los Angeles, and Harry have recently returned from an extended break over the Christmas holidays in Canada.

Former actress Meghan has strong ties to the country and owned a home in Toronto, where she filmed the hit TV series Suits. She is believed to have a strong friendship base in the city, which includes best friend Jessica Mulroney, whose daughter acted as a flower girl at Meghan’s 2018 marriage to Harry.

Meghan gave birth to the couple’s first-born child, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, in May last year.

The Sussexes are known to have been unhappy with what they saw as press intrusion into their private life as a family.

The couple have been criticised in the British newspapers for their use of private jets while claiming to be environmental activists as well as renovating their home in at a cost of £2.4 million (Dh11.5m) to taxpayers.

Meghan said in October that she had found motherhood a struggle because of the intense interest from the press, while Harry accused British tabloids of conducting a “ruthless campaign” against his wife.

The sixth-in-line to the throne drew comparisons to the treatment of his mother, Princess Diana, by the press. Diana died in a car accident in Paris in 1997 after the limousine she was travelling in crashed while being chased by the paparazzi.

Royal historian Professor Kate Williams said that Harry would feel the only way Meghan could be “treated fairly” is to opt out of being senior royals.

“I think we will see them setting up a global foundation for charity as a force for good,” she wrote on Twitter.

Mr Fitzwilliams said it was unlikely that stepping back as senior royals would give the couple the freedom from the media scrutiny that they desired.

“They want to do their own thing in their own way. It is easily said but working this out will be extremely difficult,” he said. “The press will be following every inch of the way.”

Updated: January 9, 2020 04:23 PM

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