Queen Elizabeth says the royals have had “constructive” discussions about what the future holds for Prince Harry and Meghan.
The face-to-face talks come after Harry and Meghan unveiled their controversial plan to walk away from royal roles — holding a dramatic family summit meant to chart a future course for the couple.
The meeting reflected the Queen’s desire to contain the fallout from Harry and Meghan’s decision to “step back” as senior royals, work to become financially independent, and split their time between Britain and North America. The couple, also known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, made the announcement Wednesday without telling the Queen or other senior royals first.
“Harry and Meghan have made clear that they do not want to be reliant on public funds in their new lives,” the statement released Monday said.
“It has therefore been agreed that there will be a period of transition in which the Sussexes will spend time in Canada and the U.K
What the Queen means by a transition period, and where the pair would live while in Canada was not immediately clear.
The Queen said the family is “entirely supportive” of Harry and Meghan’s desire to start a “new life as a young family.”
“Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working members of the Royal Family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family.”
The meeting at the monarch’s private Sandringham estate in eastern England was expected to include William as well as the brothers’ father, Prince Charles.
It came after days of intense news coverage in which supporters of the Royal Family’s feuding factions used the British media to paint conflicting pictures of who was to blame for the rift. Meghan, who is in Canada with the couple’s baby son Archie, was expected to join the meeting by phone.
Joint statement ahead of meeting
Before the extraordinary session, Princes William and Harry took the equally unusual step of issuing a statement challenging the accuracy of a newspaper report that there was a severe strain on the relationship between the brothers.
“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 said.
Though the statement did not name the newspaper, the Times of London had a front-page story about the crisis in which a source alleged Harry and Meghan had been pushed away by the “bullying attitude from” William. The joint statement insisted the story was “false.”
One of the more fraught questions that needed to be worked out is precisely what it means for a royal to be financially independent and what activities can be undertaken to make money. Other royals who have ventured into the world of commerce have found it complicated.
Prince Andrew, for example, has faced heated questions about his relationship with the late convicted sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein. Andrew, the Queen’s second son, has relinquished royal duties and patronages after being accused by a woman who says she was an Epstein trafficking victim who was forced to sleep with the prince.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex also face questions on taxpayer-funded security. Home Secretary Priti Patel refused to comment, but said safety was a priority.
“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 told the BBC. “At this moment in time, right now, the Royal Family themselves need some time and space for them to work through the current issues that they’re dealing with.”
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday he doesn’t “comment on stuff to do with the Royal Family.”
With much at stake, the talks could be a step toward a changed monarchy.
“This is a seismic moment in royal history and British society,” Kate Williams, a historian at the University of Reading, wrote in the Observer.
“It tells historians of the future much about our society, its self-perceptions, prejudices and fears. And most of all, it should mark our realization — as we didn’t learn after Diana [Princess of Wales] — that those who marry into the Royal Family are not our dolls to attack and throw around as we please.”
Royals correspondent Roya Nikkah told CBC News Network she has had briefings from the palace in recent days and expected the Queen would urge her family to put emotional issues aside as they tried to make progress on a resolution.
Nikkah, a correspondent for the Sunday Times, told Heather Hiscox before the summit that she expected there would be three major issues discussed at the meeting, including:
- How much official work Harry and Meghan will do on behalf of the monarchy and the government.
- Where the pair will spend more time — in the U.K. or North America.
- What it means for the pair to aim for financial independence. What, if any, funding they would continue to receive from the Queen and the Prince of Wales.
The question of funding also goes beyond the Royal Family, as it’s not yet clear who would carry the cost of security for Harry, Meghan and their son Archie.
The Royal Family wants to keep the pair “on side,” Nikkah said earlier Monday, adding the couple has “star power” with “global and diverse appeal.”
But no matter the outcome, Nikkah said, the monarchy would survive.
“The Queen is popular; she has a direct line of succession all set up. The monarchy has been shaken by controversies and scandals for decades and centuries. It will survive this one, too.”
The statement from the Queen on Monday made it clear that the Sussexes would not be walking away from the family in the near term, though it did not provide detailed information about how any of the questions Nikkah outlined will be addressed.