The Queen has summoned senior members of the Royal Family to a meeting at her Sandringham estate on Monday to resolve the growing crisis over the future roles of Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.
The meeting is expected to include the Queen, Prince Charles, Prince Harry and his brother Prince William. Ms. Markle is expected to join the group by telephone from Canada where she has been staying with the couple’s son Archie.
Prince Harry and the Duchess said last week they want more freedom from the family. Just how that can be accomplished is proving complicated and involves sorting out titles, finances, duties, security and living arrangements.
The fallout between the couple and the Royal Family has dominated British media and led to some fierce criticism, particularly of the Duchess. Several commentators have blamed her for causing the rift and pulling Prince Harry away from his brother and father. But others have praised her for showing independence and pushing for reform.
Several media reports have indicated that the Queen has been devastated by the crisis, which comes just weeks after Prince Andrew had to step down from royal duties because of his association with the late American pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
In an article in the Sunday Times, journalist Tom Bradby, who is close to Prince Harry and the Duchess, said that if the talks don’t go well the couple could turn on the Royal Family. "I have some idea of what might be aired in a full, no-holds-barred sit-down interview and I don’t think it would be pretty,” Mr. Bradby wrote.
It’s unclear how the Duke and Duchess will earn a living going forward and what royal duties they will continue to perform. The couple has set up their own charitable foundation and they plan to continue their current work with a number of charities, including many linked to the Commonwealth. They’ve also taken on some commercial ventures in the United States.
The Duchess has signed a deal with Disney to do a voiceover for an unspecified project in return for a donation to the conservation charity Elephants Without Borders. Prince Harry has announced plans to work on a documentary series with Oprah Winfrey about mental health issues that will be shown on Apple’s streaming service.
Just how much financial support they will get from the Royal Family is also unclear. Nearly all of the couple’s current income, roughly £2.5-million annually (or $4.3-million), comes from the Duchy of Cornwall, an entity set up in 1337 for the heir to the throne which now has about £1-billion in assets and is headed by Prince Charles.
The Duchy is not subject to taxation but Prince Charles voluntarily pays tax on its annual profit. He uses the remaining surplus, about £21-million last year, to fund his expenses along with those of Prince Harry and Prince William. The Sussexes also receive a small amount from a government stipend that’s paid annually to the Royal Family.
The Duke and Duchess could face a substantial tax hit if they decide to earn an income on their own. The Royal Family traditionally doesn’t pay income tax but the Queen and Prince Charles voluntarily pay an amount every year. It’s not clear if Prince Harry voluntarily pays tax as well but he and the Duchess will certainly be subject to income tax if they begin earning money independently. That could include paying taxes in Britain, Canada and the United States, depending on where their money is earned.
They might also have to start paying rent on their accommodation at Frogmore Cottage, which is located near Windsor Castle. The cottage belongs to the Queen and she would have to set the terms for them to continue living there. Security costs for the couple, estimated at about £600,000 annually, could also become an issue although Prince Harry and the Duchess have insisted that they should retain their government-funded protection.
The couple also announced changes to how they will interact with the media. They have been fiercely critical of the British press and launched lawsuits in October against two main tabloids over allegations of unfair coverage of the Duchess. This week they said they will shun Britain’s main news outlets and no longer participate in the Royal Rota, a pool system that gives a handful of journalists exclusive access to Royal events on the understanding that they will share their reporting with other media. Prince Harry and Ms. Markle said the rota was outdated and favoured the major newspapers which they accused of misreporting. Instead they plan to make better use of social media and work with “grassroots media organizations and young, up-and-coming journalists.”
Their plan drew a sharp rebuke from the National Union of Journalists which said it will compromise how journalists do their jobs. “The rota system is not perfect, but it does allow U.K. media to cover the British Royal Family – an institution maintained by the public purse,” said Michelle Stanistreet, the NUJ’s General Secretary. “We cannot have a situation where journalists writing about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex can only do so if they have the royal seal of approval. We reject sweeping criticism of journalists and media organisations by the Duke and Duchess, who simultaneously claim to respect the role of the media.”
Penny Junor, who has written several books on the Royal Family, said the couple was overreacting and she criticized their media plan. “They are making enemies of the press,” Ms. Junor said. “My own feeling is that Meghan, as an American, had no idea about the subtleties of the British Royal Family. It is a very strange institution and we behave in a very strange way toward them and we expect them to behave in a particular way.” She added that while the Duchess has been subject to intense coverage, “I don’t actually think that there has been an onslaught of criticism against her. And I don’t think there has been a sustained campaign against her at all.”
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