- The Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry are due to met at Sandringham for an emergency summit to discuss the announcement by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex that they intend to step back from being senior royal figures and become self-financing.
- The home secretary, Priti Patel, has contradicted Prince Harry’s claims that negative coverage of his wife has been motivated by an undercurrent of racism. She said: “I’m not in that category at all where I believe there’s racism at all. I think we live in a great country, a great society, full of opportunity, where people of any background can get on in life. I certainly haven’t seen that through any debates or commentary or things of that nature.”
- Prince William and Prince Harry have issued a joint statement dismissing a “false story” in a UK newspaper today speculating about their relationship. The two princes say: “Despite clear denials, a false story ran in a UK newspaper today speculating about the relationship between the Duke of Sussex and the Duke of Cambridge. For brothers who care so deeply about the issues surrounding mental health, the use of inflammatory language in this way is offensive and potentially harmful.” Although they did not name the paper, it is believed to be a reference to an article in the Times which suggested the Sussexes had been driven away from the royal family by “bullying” behaviour.
With the abrupt announcement that they were intending to step back from royal duties, it has been natural to look back at some of the things that Prince Harry has previously said about his role in the royal family through a slightly different lens.
As recently as 2017 he spoke to Newsweek magazine about considering leaving the royal family: “I felt I wanted out but then decided to stay in and work out a role for myself.”
Today’s summit meeting at Sandringham is not just a family gathering though, it is a business meeting. Interviewed around the time of the Queen’s 90th birthday, Harry told the BBC: “I still view her more as the Queen than my grandmother. You have this huge amount of respect for your boss and I always view her as my boss – but occasionally as a grandmother.”
And maybe there’s a hint of what comes next in what he’s said before. Harry once answered a question on what he would do if he were not a prince: “I’d probably live in Africa. I’d like to spend all my time out there … As a job, it would probably be a safari guide.”
It has been believed for some time that Prince Charles is in favour of a slimmed-down version of the monarchy, which might be more likely to continue to carry public support. He may not have envisaged the changes happening so quickly, or being instigated by his youngest son. At the weekend Kate Williams argued in the Observer that Harry and Meghan’s “flexi-royal” plan could help modernise the monarchy, bringing it more in line with the royal families of Europe, in which most members not in direct line have full-time careers.
A few months ago, Prince Andrew revealed royal privilege and entitlement at its worst, refusing to apologise in his Newsnight interview for socialising with a sex criminal. And although he was criticised and forced to step down, it was a long time coming and it still seemed as if some in our society were angrier about Meghan wearing dark nail varnish than Andrew’s links with Epstein. Harry and Meghan’s decision to step back has gained huge traction and sympathy across the world. The royal family needs to work with their wishes or risk losing them for ever.
Prince Harry and Prince William dismiss “false story” in a UK newspaper today
Prince Harry and Prince William have dismissed a “false story” in a UK newspaper today speculating about their relationship. The joint statement on behalf of the Duke of Sussex and Duke of Cambridge said: “Despite clear denials, a false story ran in a UK newspaper today speculating about the relationship between the Duke of Sussex and the Duke of Cambridge. For brothers who care so deeply about the issues surrounding mental health, the use of inflammatory language in this way is offensive and potentially harmful.”
The statement does not specify which report, but they are believed to be referring to a story in the Times which was headlined “Princes ‘fell out because William wasn’t friendly towards Meghan’”.
The opening paragraph of that story referred to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex regarding themselves as “having been pushed away from the royal family by the ‘bullying’ attitude” of the Duke of Cambridge. The Times claimed that a source, said to be close to the couple, had said William was insufficiently welcoming towards Meghan when she first started dating Harry as a result of the competitive nature of William’s relationship with his younger brother. The report quoted the source as saying she had spent two years “constantly being told your place, constantly bullied as they would see it”.
The move comes a day after the Sunday Times reported William saying: “I’ve put my arm around my brother all our lives and I can’t do that any more; we’re separate entities.”
And in a documentary, filmed during the Sussexes tour of southern Africa last autumn, Harry had said he and William were now “on different paths” and have “good days” and “bad days” in their relationship.
With the home secretary, Priti Patel, coming out today to say she had seen no racism in the coverage of Meghan Markle during her journey from becoming Prince Harry’s partner to marrying into the royal family (see 10:14), it might be worth spending two minutes reading Nesrine Malik’s blistering column from the Observer yesterday, where she spoke of “Britain’s racism pantomime”.
In many ways, any improvement in race relations has come with a proportional decline in self-awareness, and with it a degradation of the public conversation on race. The increased visibility of black and brown people in those spaces where this conversation takes place – in politics and the media – has achieved little apart from sifting them into for and against camps. Whenever a public figure is subjected to racist behaviour, a sort of kangaroo court is set up, one with an impossibly high bar for proving a racist event has occurred – anything short of an explicit slur or a violent attack can easily be explained away. The outcome of the litigation is certain because the whole point of the exercise is the spectacle, rather than the inquiry.
There’s an argument that the royal family haven’t helped themselves in terms of media management in the way that they have made today’s crisis summit a type of public event, but also private event. Having been informed that it is taking place, the media have of course set up camp outside Sandringham, hoping for photos of the members of the family as they arrive. But there’s no scheduled press conference afterwards, and no formal public element to the proceedings. By the end of the day we may still be very much in a “no white smoke yet” situation.
The Sun and the Mirror both focus their front pages on what comes next, and what they fear might be a worst-case scenario for the monarchy – that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex offer a “tell-all” TV interview to put their side of the story.
The Sun’s editorial is firm on what it thinks its readers expect: “What’s clear is that the couple must not receive a penny from the state. British taxpayers fund the royal family to strengthen our nation’s soft power and to support vital charities. If Meghan and Harry can’t be bothered with the legwork, then it goes without saying they must give up the whopping perks which come with it.”
The Sun also finds time to report that the Duchess of Sussex has only ever spent six hours in Sussex, an almost textbook example of the kind of negative coverage that has continually riled Prince Harry.
The potential impact of a dynamite television interview is one that Prince Harry will be well aware of. His mother Princess Diana gave a landmark interview to Martin Bashir about the failure of her marriage to Prince Charles in 1995, when Harry was a child.
As you can imagine, coverage of the crisis dominated most front pages in the UK this morning, with the Mirror, Mail, Sun, Telegraph and Times all leading with royal stories.
Describing it on their masthead as “D-day for the royals”, the Telegraph’s editorial says: “There is evidently a general willingness to recognise that Prince Harry and his wife do not want to continue with the role that had been expected of them, although many will deeply resent the suggestions that the Duchess has somehow been forced to flee by intrinsic racism and bigotry. Rarely has a royal marriage been so welcomed, largely because of the popularity of Prince Harry and a national desire to see him happy.”
The paper’s deferential sympathies, though, very much lie with the plight of the Queen. Their editorial goes on to say: “It is also clear that the country does not want to see a ‘half-in, half-out’ arrangement reached, which would not be fair on the other senior royals. In particular, it would not be fair on the Queen, who has again been confronted with an unnecessarily onerous task, which she approaches with her usual dutiful fortitude, but at a time in her life when she deserves better.”
A key aspect for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to establish will be where their future commercial interests lie. They have already made moves to trademark their names.
My colleague Ben Quinn reports that back in December they filed an application with the World Intellectual Property Organization in the name of their new foundation “Sussex Royal”. The application covered Australia, Canada, the EU and US, and was for a range of items and activities including clothing, stationery and the running of “emotional support groups”.
The couple already use “Sussex Royal” as their name on Instagram, where they have over 10 million followers. Since making their statement last week on Instagram and their own website, they have posted just one more thing online – a roundup of photographs of them visiting the women of the Hubb Community Kitchen, which was set up in the wake of Grenfell to cook meals for families and neighbours who had been displaced because of the fire.
Here’s a rundown from my colleague Caroline Davies of what we can expect from the day – and what both sides of the royal family will be hoping to get out of any agreement.
The announcement from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex last week was quite unclear on the details about the role they are hoping to fulfil in the future. However, there may have been some hints in the Sunday papers.
Writing in the Sunday Times, the ITV journalist Tom Bradby, who seems close to the couple, outlined what he felt they were looking to get out of any deal.
“They appear philosophical about the prospect of losing their titles and becoming, in the end, entirely self-funded,” he wrote.
“If I had to guess,” he added “I’d say Meghan might take on a few big roles as a brand ambassador and do some work in television as an executive producer, perhaps on programmes that promote the causes and charities she has long been interested in.
“I imagine Harry will probably concentrate on the voluntary work he has done over the years – the Invictus Games, Sentebele – and if he were to step into the commercial space, I suspect it would be an area that already interests him, such as eco-tourism.”
Priti Patel contradicts Prince Harry over media racism claim
One of the other issues that will be up for discussion is the future security arrangements for the couple and their young son Archie. Asked on BBC Radio 5 Live this morning about the possible options, the home secretary, Priti Patel, refused to comment, saying: “I’m not going to provide any detailed information on the security arrangements for either them or any members of the royal family or for any protected individuals – that’s thoroughly inappropriate for me to do so.”
She went on to contradict Prince Harry’s assessment that some of the negative coverage of his wife had been motivated by racism.
She said: “I’m not in that category at all where I believe there’s racism at all. I think we live in a great country, a great society, full of opportunity, where people of any background can get on in life.”
She added that she didn’t think the media had been in any way racist, saying: “I certainly haven’t seen that through any debates or commentary or things of that nature.”
Harry has been critical of coverage of Meghan for some time. In November 2016 he issued a statement condemning what he called a “wave of abuse and harassment” from the British press and public.
“Some of this has been very public,” the palace’s statement read at the time. “The smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments.”
In September last year, the BBC issued an apology to Prince Harry after it failed to warn the Duke of Sussex in advance before broadcasting and publishing online an image from a neo-Nazi social media group that called him a “race traitor”.
Crisis meeting at Sandringham scheduled for later today
Good morning, on a day that could prove to be pivotal for the future shape of the monarchy. While a lot of the wider coverage of the crisis caused by the sudden announcement from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex that they want to step back from senior roles in the royal family treats them like showbiz or celebrity characters, the move has significant constitutional implications for how the royal family is run and paid for, and what is expected from them in the future.
Later today the Queen will gather her heir Prince Charles, and his sons Prince William and Prince Harry, for a meeting. Meghan is expected to be joining them via conference call, as they attempt to thrash out the next steps to a workable solution at the Queen’s private Sandringham estate in eastern England. According to reports the issues up for debate will include how much money the couple will still receive from Charles’s estate, their royal titles and what commercial deals they can strike.
It’s not entirely clear that much news will emerge from the meeting today – we may just end up with a “talks with continue”.