A Hard Megxit? The Royal deal must sever the public umbilical cord for a post-Royal life
Jim McConalogue, 24 January 2020
Almost nobody seriously thinks the latest Meghan-Harry debacle jeopardises in any way the permanence, long-lasting respect or pride of the monarchy in ordinary British civil society. The only potential real decline in favourable public opinion (according to recent YouGov polling) belongs to Prince Harry falling from 71% to 55% from October to January and Meghan, falling from 55% to 38% over the same period. It is however a matter of public and constitutional principle to establish a breakaway deal which is both long-lasting and satisfies the principle of public and national interest.
For all its wrongs, it is probably justifiable that some deal is found that accommodates the couple’s highly unorthodox approach. Many of us try to suspend opinion as the couple recreate this new life for themselves. Yet, when it becomes obvious (and very predictably so) that over time they become patrons of questionable Woke causes on the global stage, it will be thought: oh, we wished we had got this deal right because the moment has come for them to develop into a globe-trotting, national appendage and there is naught to be done but stare at a post-Royal, celebrity-styled, high-society duo to which we are all (by constitution and national life) attached.
However, it is less about whether one likes this or that element of their deal (or personalities) but whether it satisfies important principles of financial, public trust and constitutional respect. For example, we have been rightly told they are to step back from royal duties, including official military appointments. Sounds about right. We are also told “they will no longer receive public funds for Royal duties” – but why not just say, “no longer receive public funds”. Is it to be expected that the public must allow them some access to public funds which are not for royal duties? Before the Royal’s deal was announced, 81% of the public (YouGov) thought Harry and Meghan should not receive any more financial support from public money.
Obviously, given their royal history, there can be some appreciation of the need for security arrangements and some allowances will need to be made to match the need for publicly-funded security as with, for example, any ambassadorial role, but surely there can be no further recourse to public funds beyond this. Even on security, it is worth bearing in mind that before the Royal announcement, a sizeable 66% (YouGov) thought the government should no longer fund the cost of the Sussex family’s security.
It is perhaps to be appreciated then that the Duke and Duchess have made known their wish to repay Sovereign Grant expenditure for the refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage, and for it to remain their UK family home – but that (again) entirely misses the point. As most expressed in a poll before the Royal announcement, they should surely no longer be allowed to live at Frogmore Cottage. If they wish to do so, surely they should proceed on sound financial and public principles. That is, the couple should buy it for its market worth. Of course, it can be difficult to appreciate that things cost money in the real world but either they pay or the taxpayer does.
The public have also been told the Sussexes will not use their HRH titles as they are no longer working members of the Royal Family. Naturally, the HRH title was rescinded. So, why do they retain their Duke and Duchess of Sussex titles? They were granted those titles on the basis of a royal marriage. Having abdicated that responsibility, they should surely be recognised as no longer having those titles and subject to how they wish to refashion themselves for the future. The commercial value of the Sussexes (or ‘Sussex Royal’) that comes with such a title of course is no doubt richly rewarding but the public legitimacy of those titles is in question. In a YouGov poll, more agreed than disagreed that the couple should be stripped of their royal titles. What more could tie an individual to the Royal family than the retaining of their royal titles? In their small-scale abdication, the retaining of Royal-conferred titles seems out of order.
The expression that they will “continue to uphold the values of Her Majesty” will soon become hollow in nature. There are, in everyone’s mind, several obvious commercial ventures, policy preferences and personality quirks which would naturally upset that balance. Furthermore, it was also clear that “the Sussexes” continuing maintenance of their private patronages and associations would become an odd peculiarity. The couple only truly form those patronages as members of the royal family; they are in essence ‘royal goods’ and if they choose to resile from those duties, surely the patronages must be the first to go.
The pledge has already been made that they can no longer formally represent The Queen. And yet, with their rights to patronages, property and Sussex titles not being given up, they are presented with the appearance of remaining Royals (in all but name). It is apparent that they have not yet made the necessary (but difficult) decisions since the Royal deal seems irreconcilable with individuals who claim to have stepped back from their responsibilities. What will become clear is that their global, jet-setting and lifestyle wishes, passion for millennial causes and right to be called ‘Sussex Royals’ will in time chafe with their respect for royal obligations. Some might say, make the decision now or let the inevitabilities of life make them for you.