Following the decision of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to withdraw from a frontline royal role, the nature and timing of that departure has now been announced. Robert Hazell and Bob Morris explain what the settlement means for both the Sussexes and the monarchy itself.
When it wants to, the British monarchy can move with remarkable and decisive speed. There were just ten days between the Sussexes unilateral declaration on 8 January and the outcome of the second Sandringham meeting released on 18 January. What has it all been about and how should the immediate and longer-term effects of the settlement be understood?
The settlement of 18 January
Its main features are:
- The couple will from 1 April 2020 withdraw from active royal duties (including Prince Harry’s honorific military offices), no longer receive public money, surrender use of their ‘HRH’ titles, and seek to become self-sufficient financially.
- They will live for substantial periods each year in Canada, at a location as yet undetermined.
- So far as their activities abroad are concerned, they have undertaken ‘to uphold the values of Her Majesty’: this a reference to the Nolan Principles of Public Life.
- Frogmore Cottage on the Windsor estate will remain their residence in England. They will reimburse the £2.4m public money cost of the refurbishment.
- The working of the arrangements will be reviewed from 1 April 2021. During this period, the Prince of Wales will continue their funding of £2.3m a year until they become self-sufficient.
- No constitutional changes are involved, but some possible secondary implications of reducing the size of the active royal family are considered below.
Not settled in the statement are:
- The Canadian immigration, residential and tax status of the couple – Canada’s leading daily newspaper, the Toronto Globe and Mail, raised some sharp questions on whether they should be allowed to live in Canada and advised that the Canadian government’s response should be a simple and succinct ‘No’. Although the Canadian government has so far been silent, it is expected to have a more welcoming, if cautious, attitude.
- Meghan’s application for British citizenship – still under consideration, where length of residence outside the UK will be one of the criteria in the balance.
- How financial self-sufficiency is to be achieved – the reference to upholding ‘the values of Her Majesty’ shows some anxieties about the means that the couple may choose.
- The arrangements for police protection – British police officers have no police powers in Canada, nor may they carry firearms. The nature of protection and defraying the considerable costs of providing it remain to be settled.
While some changes (resigning the post of Captain General of the Royal Marines) will happen immediately from 1 April, withdrawal will be a process rather than an event. It will also be conditional on the progress made. That is, the settlement implies that permission to keep but not use the HRH title can be withdrawn if the Queen is, say, dissatisfied with the way the Sussexes embark on commercial ventures which capitalise on their royal status (HRH status was withdrawn from the wives of the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York following their divorces). Similarly, establishing a review mechanism not only leaves open the possibility of the Sussexes’ return to UK public life, but also a possibility that the settlement’s terms might be tightened if developments are not to the Queen’s satisfaction.
There is also the point that the Sussexes’ departure will remove an important source of support to the royal family. Based on the fact that in 2019 the 15 active members of the family undertook over 3,500 engagements (of which 758 took place abroad), the loss of the Sussexes’ contribution of 8% overall (and 18% of the overseas total) in a year of the Duchess’s pregnancy will be felt numerically and in other important ways because of the charm and gusto they brought to such activities (see also below for a discussion of the size of the royal family). There is also the technical point that in future Prince Harry, if he spends more time overseas, may no longer be able to act as a Counsellor of State, that is one of the most senior royal family members empowered jointly to act for the sovereign in case of the sovereign’s temporary indisposition or absence abroad.
What is ‘Megxit’ all about?
There seem to be two root causes, the problem of those not in direct line of succession, and a confusion of the status of celebrity with that of royalty.
The rule of primogeniture in the British royal family is that only one person can be heir, but the successful operation of the family leans on an assumption that others close to the throne will undertake royal duties in support and have royal status themselves. The confusion arises from the fact that, whereas celebrity, however acquired, is personal to the holder, royal status is different. It springs not from the activities of a single person but from the community that confers it. A particular family has been chosen to represent the continuity of a nation and provide its head of state. A privileged lifestyle is accompanied by significant curtailment of personal freedoms – no free choice of career, little freedom of speech, serious loss of privacy – in the service of providing a neutral, non-partisan head of state. It is the neutrality and continuity that can be admired by other countries where state headship is the site of political conflict and division, and frequent change.
Another way of explaining the difference is to consider how a celebrity may resort to any money-raising activity permitted by law. This could include, for example, paid employment, product endorsement, brand ambassadorship, paid directorships of commercial companies, merchandising own products, plus acceptance of fees for speeches and public appearances. While the Prince of Wales’s range of ‘Duchy Originals’ is marketed for profit, all the profits go to the Prince’s charities rather than his own pockets.
It is these considerations that help explain why the settlement came down to keeping so sharp and principled a distinction between royal and non-royal status. In the end, the vocational character of royalty cannot live with half measures.
At present these are difficult to read and may not become apparent for some time. Two reasonably foreseeable consequences concern the size of the royal family and the careers of members of the royal family.
Size of the royal family
Other royal families supported by public money are certainly smaller. Indeed, the Swedish king has only recently removed five of his grandchildren from the official family which otherwise consists of the king and queen, the crown princess, Victoria, and her husband and children. Princess Madeleine, the king’s younger daughter, is married to a British citizen (who has taken neither Swedish title nor citizenship) and lives in Florida. She fulfils certain Swedish duties in the USA and has an active connection with some Swedish and global charities. The Danish and Norwegian royal families follow similar models but these families come from countries with small populations, ranging from 5 million to 9 million.
As we argued in our previous blog, the UK needs a larger royal family to service its much larger population of 66 million. We also need a bigger team to service the realms: the Queen is head of state of 15 other countries, and Harry and Meghan have played their part in visits to Australia, Canada and New Zealand. In total 15 members of the British royal family conducted almost 3,500 royal engagements last year. The departures of the Duke of York (who on his own in 2019 undertook 8% of royal engagements) and of the Sussexes mean a loss of 15% capacity on 2019 figures. Apart from these unexpected reductions, talk of slimming down the royal family as a matter of policy implies that we must all accept that fewer visits home and overseas, and fewer patronages and their support for civil society, will be entailed. On the 2019 figures, for example, a slimmed down monarchy consisting only of the Queen, the Waleses and the Cambridges would amount to just under 40% of the total undertaken that year – a loss of 60%. Even then, it would be necessary to add the qualitative effects of such a steep decline, and the implications of fewer overseas visits particularly for links with the 15 Commonwealth realms.
The scale of change questions whether the head of the family should alone bear responsibility for determining its size. In some of the other European monarchies, like the Netherlands, it is the government which determines the size of the royal family. The time may have come when the government itself should be responsible for deciding more explicitly what it is reasonable to expect the royal family to do both at home and abroad. Scaling down means that disappointment following a more stretched rationing of royal (that is, national and impartial) attention needs to be managed, and the government should take its share of responsibility for that.
Royal career management
None of this means that those unlikely to inherit should not be allowed to develop their own careers provided there is no conflict with royal duties. In the Netherlands (population 17.2 million), the king’s surviving brother, Prince Constantijn (currently fourth in line to the throne), studied law and has developed an uncontroversial career in international consultancy, serving two periods as a civil servant in the European Commission. He is a patron of Dutch charities and holds a government appointment concerned with initiatives designed to improve the use of digital strategies. His wife, Princess Laurentien, has been associated with efforts to combat illiteracy, including as a UNESCO Envoy. Prince Constantijn’s elder brother, Prince Friso (who died in 2013 as the result of a skiing accident), trained as a mechanical and then aeronautical engineer working in consultancy. He was dropped from the royal succession in 2004 when he failed to obtain government consent to his marriage.
The implications here are for managing the aspirations and, therefore, the education of minor royals in ways which allow them both to support the monarchy and develop satisfying professional lives. For too long the British royal family has fallen back on the armed services alone. Nowadays such careers cannot be long-lasting and it will be sensible to consider more varied approaches. This could be of great personal benefit not only for Archie Mountbatten-Windsor but also for his cousins Charlotte and Louis. Such possible changes would come, of course, too late for Prince Harry but help explain why he is left with life choices that, if managed inappropriately, could clash with royal status; and why his situation deserves the sympathy his grandmother has been notably determined to extend to him.
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About the authors
Professor Robert Hazell was the first Director of the Constitution Unit, and closely involved with helping the Cabinet Office draft the Cabinet Manual. He is the co-editor of The Role of Monarchy in Modern Democracy, which will be published in July.