The Queen tells Harry: out means out

19 January 2020

7:23 AM

19 January 2020

7:23 AM

In the end, it took just over a week for Prince Harry to announce and finalise the terms of his exit from the royal family. The settlement: he and Meghan have agreed to give up their ‘royal highness’ titles . They’ll still be entitled to them, but won’t use them. They’ll perform no more royal duties and – ergo – receive no more taxpayers’ money. Moreover, they’ll refund the £2.4 million cost of refurbishing Frogmore Cottage in Windsor, which they’ll keep as their UK home. They had been angling to avoid this charge, saying on their website that the costly upgrade merely reflected ‘the monarchy’s responsibility to maintain the upkeep of buildings with historical significance’ and that it was ‘already undergoing mandated renovations’ when they agreed to move in. But Harry has the funds. He’s worth about £30 million (mainly through inheritance) and it seems he’s agreed to cover the costs.

And in return, he’s a free man. It seems as if the statement on the ‘Sussex Royal’ website – that they ‘proudly carry out official overseas visits in support of Her Majesty The Queen’ – has been rejected by Buckingham Palace. There can be no halfway house, so there will be no more royal duties. No ‘collaborating’ with the Queen, as their glitzy website puts it. Harry will drop all his military roles, including Captain-General of the Royal Marines. The royal footprint has just shrunk appreciably. Harry’s abdication is certainly a loss.

But there is a good deal of sense to this exit deal. Harry clearly hated life in what he called ‘the goldfish bowl’ and wanted out. He and Meghan had tastes that are too sybaritic for the royals and way out of line with the parameters that the Queen and Prince William have carefully set for the modern monarchy. Had they continued as they were, they’d be accused of choosing the values of Hollywood over that of Sandringham and it would have been worse for everyone. This separation, no matter how painful, is for the best. Harry was right to force the issue.

‘It is a complete misconception,’ the Duke of Edinburgh once said, ‘to imagine that the monarchy exists in the interests of the monarch. It doesn’t. It exists in the interests of the people.’ He is right, and this has implications: on how to behave, on what to do and what not to do, on a life of duty serving unfashionable charities – and, perhaps toughest of all, sharing huge amounts of your private life with the public via the media. It’s a lot to ask.

The Queen has, through her conduct, exemplified these values – thereby making the monarchy a unifying force in a country often divided by politicians. Public support for the monarchy is strikingly strong in Britain, but it would soon start to crumble if its members started behaving like Manhattan billionaires. Had Harry stayed, this would have been a risk.

The statement issued this evening by the Queen

Prince Harry has been getting a hard time for all of this. But it was clear that this life is not for him –  not now, anyway. He has a wife, a child and has the right to establish his family on a route that he’d like to continue. And to ask for an exit. Sofia Svensson wrote a few days ago about how Princess Madeleine of Sweden, whose big sister is the heir to the Swedish crown, also married a rich American and moved over there to opt out of royal life. It works for the Swedes and there’s no reason that a royal exit can’t work for Harry and Meghan. As long as they’re not on the public purse, and don’t embarrass the country by running Blair-style errands for sheiks and oligarchs, this could be as elegant a way out of this as either side could hope for.

This is not over yet. We haven’t been told whether they’ll still get money from Prince Charles’s Duchy businesses or what kind of work they’ll do. Some years after Princess Madeleine left Sweden, the king decided that her children should not have the ‘royal highness’ title: we have not been told that the same will happen to the offspring of Harry and Meghan. Perhaps this is to offer him a route back, should he be minded to take one. If they live like Toronto millionaires then everything will be fine. But if the lifestyle they’re shooting for is that of Californian billionaires then there could be a lot more trouble.

But as things stand, there’s no reason why this Megxit deal should not work. A 21st century monarch should have an exit mechanism for those minded to take it. Prince Harry has just created one. This could very well end up better for everyone, with the monarchy ending up stronger as a result.

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