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In a stunning declaration, Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, said they are planning 'to step back' as senior members of the royal family and 'work to become financially independent.'The Associated Press

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have announced plans to change their roles within the Royal Family and spend more time in North America.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the couple said that after many months of reflection and “internal discussions” they have “chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution.” They added that they will “step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty the Queen … We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honour our duty to the Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages.”

The geographic split “will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity," the statement said.

In a statement, Buckingham Palace said the Royal Family understood “their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”

The couple had a tumultuous year in 2019 and said last fall that they planned to take a break from royal duties. After announcing the birth of their son Archie in May, they launched lawsuits against three British tabloids over their coverage of Ms. Markle and her family. By the end of the year, the couple talked about their struggles with the media limelight and Prince Harry confirmed a rift with his brother, Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge. They took a six-week break from royal duties in November and spent part of the Christmas holidays in Canada at a luxury mansion on Vancouver Island.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex emerged publicly for the first time this week when they visited the Canadian High Commission in London on Tuesday to thank the country for the hospitality shown during their vacation. During the visit to Canada House, Ms. Markle told diplomats that their son Archie was stunned by the natural beauty of the country. “My goodness it was just such an incredible time we were able to have there and with our son too,” she said. “And just to be able to take in the warmth that we experienced from the people, also just walk around and just see the beauty of Canada.”

After the couple’s trip to British Columbia and Wednesday’s announcement, media outlets speculated the family might spend more time in Canada, as well as Los Angeles, the home of Ms. Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland.

It’s not clear what role the couple will now have in the royal household. Last summer, they announced they were ending their involvement with the Royal Foundation, the principle charitable vehicle of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. They said at the time that they planned to pursue their own causes through a new foundation. “These changes are designed to best complement the work and responsibilities of Their Royal Highnesses as they prepare for their future roles, and to better align their charitable activity with their new households,” Kensington Palace said in a statement at the time.

Both Prince Harry and Ms. Markle are deeply involved in various Commonwealth organizations. Prince Harry is the Commonwealth Youth Ambassador and Ms. Markle is a patron of several organizations including the Association of Commonwealth Universities. She is also vice-president of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, which focuses on programs for young people.

Prince Harry and Ms. Markle are the second royals to pull back from the family in recent months. Prince Andrew announced in November that he was stepping from royal duties amid a growing controversy over his ties to U.S. registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Editor’s note: (Jan. 8, 2020) An earlier version of this article included an incorrect first name for Doria Ragland.

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