The answer was a resounding ‘off you go’. Blocking them outright was never a realistic option. It would have unleashed a major civil war, turned the public against a seemingly heartless monarchy, and potentially triggered an ugly tell-all interview by Harry and Meghan.
The Queen’s highly personal, conciliatory statement of Monday is radically different in tone to the sharp backhander that was Buckingham Palace’s response hours after last week’s bombshell announcement that Harry and Meghan wanted out. This time around, the word ‘family’ was even used eight times in just five paragraphs.
As it often is though, the tricky news was buried towards the bottom.
“Harry and Meghan have made clear that they do not want to be reliant on public funds in their new lives,” the Queen said.
“These are complex matters for my family to resolve, and there is some more work to be done, but I have asked for final decisions to be reached in the coming days.”
The problem Harry and Meghan face is that while they may have had an early win, the terms of the deal are far from finalised. Decisions on titles, security, living arrangements and funding will have to be thrashed out over the coming days. Each issue could be a flashpoint.
The pair have already agreed to give up their slice of the Sovereign Grant, which is the pool of money Treasury allocates to the royal family each year. Harry and Meghan say their share represents only 5 per cent of their operating costs. The rest comes from profits earned by Prince Charles’ vast landholdings known as the Duchy of Cornwall. This arrangement will need to end too if they are serious about financial independence.
The Queen will want to limit the extent to which the Sussexes can trade off their royal brand. Her advisors will be insisting on guidelines to make sure any commercial arrangements the couple enter into do not pose a conflict of interest for the broader family. This has the potential to seriously dampen their massive earning potential.
The 93-year-old will also need to decide whether she allows her grandson and daughter-in-law to live in Frogmore Cottage when they’re in the United Kingdom. The taxpayer recently spent millions renovating it for the newly-married couple. Keeping the property is looking more and more untenable.
The governments of Britain and Canada are in discussions about who will pay for security. The pair are high-profile targets and abandoning official police protection is not an option they should consider nor be asked of them. Expect an announcement soon that Ottawa may help foot the bill.
And then there is the very thorny topic of titles and how the newly independent pair will interact with the monarchy. When this saga began last week few royal commentators believes the pair could lose their status as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. But the Queen’s latest statement did not once mention Harry and Meghan by those royal titles. Neither was there any mention of the couple playing some kind of de-facto ambassadorial role for the Commonwealth.
Harry and Meghan have got their way but it’s far from clear the royal family is “entirely supportive” of their move. The biggest question of all may ultimately be whether the pair even care.
Bevan Shields is the Europe correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.