I have a bad feeling about this. Yesterday, Prince Harry and The Duchess of Sussex announced plans to step back from being senior members of the royal family and instead become “members of the Royal Family with financial independence”, whatever that means. Buckingham Palace then released a statement making it clear nothing has been officially hashed out. From what we’ve been told that Harry and Meghan want, the way I see it, there is no end to this situation where Harry and Meghan still have their HRH and Sussex titles because what they are asking for is a free pass to blatant corruption.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time mulling over Harry and Meghan’s statement and various parts of their new website because I was quite shocked by this announcement, and I needed time to get my thoughts in order. I wasn’t shocked by the announcement to step away itself (that I understand), but because Harry and Meghan aren’t stepping away; instead they want to eat their cake and have it, too. They want the prestige of royal titles and royal tours and royal lodging, but they want to make money off of their royal titles in a post-divorce Fergie type of way.
On the surface, what Harry and Meghan are asking for sounds great. People have complained for years about their spending and “but the taxpayer”, so when they claim they want to “no longer receive funding through the Sovereign Grant” and “become financially independent” it sounds like a win-win: Harry and Meghan gain freedom; and the taxpayer doesn’t have to pay for them. But financial independence isn’t actually what they have outlined.
Harry and Meghan’s new website includes a Funding page which provides information about how they see their lives and work being funded moving forward. Their current funding is outlined as:
|Funding from the Duchy of Cornwall||95%|
|Funding from the Sovereign Grant||5%|
|Funding for security by The Metropolitan Police||Paid for by taxes|
|Funding for royal tours||Sovereign Grant and contributions from host country|
In addition, their residence of Frogmore Cottage was refurbished with funding from the Sovereign Grant (fixtures and furnishings were paid for privately by the Sussexes). They plan on continuing to live part time at Frogmore Cottage.
The ONLY part of this funding which they want to remove is the 5% from the Sovereign Grant which covers paying their office staff. Their security will continue to be paid for by the taxpayer, royal tours will continue to be paid for by the Sovereign Grant and host country, they will continue to live in their Sovereign Grant-refurbished home owned by The Queen, and they will presumably (although this is not clearly stated) still receive 95% funding from the Duchy of Cornwall.
Prince Harry Watch on Twitter said it best that “The financial FAQ on the Sussex website is like an adult child telling his parents that by paying for his own phone bill, he’s now financially independent…but he’s still living in their house rent-free & is staying on their insurance plan. AND HE’S MADE CHARTS!”
If your dad is paying 95% of your funding, if your granny owns your home, if the taxpayer is paying your security, if the Sovereign Grant is paying your official travel, you are not financially independent.
But financial independence isn’t what Harry and Meghan want here; what they want, from what they’ve outlined, is to commercially profit from their royal titles and connections.
They claim they “value the ability to earn a professional income” but under the current structure they “are prohibited from earning any income in any form”, so this new approach “will enable them to continue to carry out their duties for Her Majesty The Queen, while having the future financial autonomy to work externally”.
Under the current financial rules, royals are prohibited form earning an income, from taking freebies and gifts over a certain amount, etc. But Harry and Meghan want the financial autonomy to earn an income, and to receive freebies and gifts. I think it’s interesting to note that Harry and Meghan aren’t stepping down from royal duties, they want to continue to do royal duties, but they also want to make money from commercial activities.
The current rules are in place for a reason: to prevent corruption. No one wants to think Harry and Meghan could be prone to corruption, but humans don’t make rules for things we don’t do. The royals implemented their current rule system because of Charles giving away his gifts to people who sold them, because of Andrew being trash. There are reasons why these rules exist, and this move from Harry and Meghan is a way to work around them.
When Harry and Meghan announced that they were spending Christmas away from Sandringham, they said that there was precedence for their decision (ie. the Cambs spending Christmas with the Middletons). For this new announcement, Harry and Meghan again call on precedence for their new model:
Do any other members of the Royal Family hold a title and earn an income?
Yes, there is precedent for this structure and applies to other current members of the Royal Family who support the monarch and also have full time jobs external to their commitment to the monarchy.
Who are they talking about? My guess is the York Princesses, Anne’s children, and potentially the Michaels. Princess Michael of Kent has written books; Anne’s children have outside jobs; and the York Princesses have outside jobs while still holding some patronages.
HOWEVER, none of these people have taxpayer funded security, none of these people go on royal tours, none of these people undertake official engagements on behalf of the Queen. When Beatrice and Eugenie do events and hold patronages, they are doing so on their own. They do not show up in the Court Circular.
In addition, ALL OF THESE PEOPLE have been criticized for “cashing in” on their royal connections: everyone complained about Peter’s firm getting the Big Lunch contract; loads of people criticized Peter and Zara for selling their wedding and photos of their first child, respectively, to the press; no one like Princess Michael of Kent; people complained about Eugenie getting a lavish wedding and a home in KP, and Beatrice has taken a lot of heat for her lavish vacations over the years.
If Harry and Meghan want to become like the York Princesses, Anne’s children, and the Michaels, then they need to be prepared for even more backlash than they’ve already received because most people dislike when people cash in on their royal connections (so many people dislike the Middletons for this very reason).
But unlike all these people, Harry and Meghan are taking this one step further: they want to be both public servant, and fully support the Queen by doing royal duties, and private individuals who can earn a commercial income.
So what this ultimately comes down to is: can a public servant use their status as a public servant to make money? The answer is no. You know how I know the answer is no? Because it’s illegal in the US for a politician to make money off of their status as a politician. It’s why the Obamas didn’t write their books until they were out of office; and it’s why so many people have a problem with the Trump kids.
This move will blow up in everyone’s faces. Harry and Meghan may get what they want for a short time, but if the royal family concedes to their demands it will expose what everyone already knows: that the royal family is corrupt. And that will lead to an increased Republic movement, and ultimately the downfall of the monarchy.
Or the royal family takes a hard stance and Harry and Meghan leave without their HRH status and without their titles, and they go off to become Edward and Wallis and a post-divorce Fergie and beg everyone they meet for money to maintain their lavish lifestyle.
I don’t see this ending well, and that’s so sad to me. Harry and Meghan have so much potential to do so much good, and be such assets to the royal family, and it makes me sad to think about them cashing in their goodwill for money like Fergie did.
If Harry and Meghan had made a clean break, I would have understood their choice; and while I would still have been sad that they would be leaving the royal family, I would have accepted it. But this move of being royal but profiting from being royal, I think is a bad one. You can’t have it both ways.
There are more things to unpack regarding Harry and Meghan’s announcement, but this article is already long so I will save the rest for later.