The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (aka Prince Harry and Meghan Markle) announced Wednesday that they will "step back" as senior members of the royal family, splitting their time between North America and the UK and no longer receiving taxpayer funding.
"After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution," the couple said in a statement posted to Instagram. "We intend to 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 honor our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages. This geographic balance 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 royal couple's decision comes after a year of what they described in an October interview as "unfair" and "untrue" media coverage that took a heavy toll on their lives and well-being.
Hours after the announcement, Buckingham Palace released a short statement that appeared to indicate that the Queen and the rest of the royal family were unprepared for news of Harry and Meghan's decision to be made public.
"Discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through."
The BBC reported that "no other royal — including the Queen or Prince William — was consulted" before Harry and Meghan made their announcement, and said that other members of the royal family were "hurt" and "disappointed."
Although it now seems unclear whether the proposed plans will be put into place, given the statement from Buckingham Palace and reports of royal displeasure, Harry and Meghan shared detailed descriptions about their future roles as non-senior royals on their newly updated official website.
Here are the highlights of Harry and Meghan's announcement:
They will no longer receive funding from the UK government.
In a detailed breakdown of what this decision means financially, Harry and Meghan said that up until now, only 5% of their official office's costs were funded by the Sovereign Grant, which is the annual money given to the Queen by the government to cover the costs of her and the royal family's official expenses. The other 95% of the funding comes from private income generated by the estate of Prince Charles, Prince Harry's father.
"During the course of 2020, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have made the choice to step back as senior members of the Royal Family and no longer receive funding through the Sovereign Grant, thereby making them members of the Royal Family with financial independence. This phased approach will take time to transition in consultation with other senior members of the Royal Family, but Their Royal Highnesses are hopeful that this change is in the best interest for all and look forward to carrying out their duties to the monarch as well as their charitable work with financial autonomy.
"While the contribution from The Sovereign Grant covers just five percent of costs for The Duke and Duchess and is specifically used for their official office expense, Their Royal Highnesses prefer to release this financial tie," the royal couple said.
This move will enable Harry and Meghan to work for money, something that they currently can't do.
"The Duke and Duchess of Sussex take great pride in their work and are committed to continuing their charitable endeavors as well as establishing new ones. In addition, they value the ability to earn a professional income, which in the current structure they are prohibited from doing. For this reason they have made the choice to become members of the Royal Family with financial independence."
Harry and Meghan will still support their official charities and carry out official duties in support of the monarchy at the request of the Queen.
"The Duke and Duchess of Sussex deeply believe in the role of the monarchy, and their commitment to Her Majesty the Queen is unwavering," the royal couple said in a statement on their official website.
"Their roles will continue to reflect their sense of duty and allegiance to the monarch and her legacy in the world, as they transition into the new working model. As they move to become members of the royal family, with financial independence, their commitment to the monarch is resolute, and they aim to continue to fly the flag for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, as called upon."
Per their website, Harry and Meghan will continue their roles as patrons of their respective charities.
Since World War II, members of the royal family have chosen to become patrons of community organizations that appeal to their personal interest to "advance causes and shine a light on important areas of interest for the nation." Harry currently is the patron of 16 organizations and Meghan is the patron of four.
Harry and Meghan are also the president and vice president, respectively, of the Queen's Commonwealth Trust and indicated on their website that they still plan to travel to Commonwealth countries at the request of the monarch and government. Since these are official duties in support of the UK, these trips will be taxpayer-funded (via the Sovereign Grant).
They will no longer participate in the "royal rota," a de facto media system that gives a select group of UK outlets exclusive access to official engagements.
The Sussexes' tense relationship with the UK media is well-documented. In 2016, after news broke that he was dating then-actor Meghan Markle, Harry issued a forceful statement against the "racial undertones" of the press coverage of their relationship and the "wave of abuse and harassment" Meghan faced as a result.
The media scrutiny of the royal couple, particularly that of Meghan, did not ease up after they were married on May 19, 2018. In an interview last year, Meghan fought back tears when addressing what she described as "unfair" and "untrue" coverage of her during her pregnancy. In the same segment, Harry said that the press's treatment of his wife brought back the trauma of the media's treatment of his mother, Princess Diana, and her tragic death. The couple has recently taken legal action, suing a number of UK newspapers for breach of privacy and phone hacking.
On Wednesday, they announced via their website that they are taking control of their media coverage and will no longer participate in the traditional royal press system known as the "royal rota."
"The royal rota was established more than 40 years ago as a way of giving UK print and broadcast media exclusive inside access to the official engagements of members of the Royal Family," they said in a statement.
"Under this system, the rota, or pool, gives these British media representatives the opportunity to exclusively cover an event, on the understanding that they will share factual material obtained with other members of their sector who request it."
The UK media outlets that currently make up the royal rota are the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror, the Evening Standard, the Telegraph, the Times, and the Sun.
In their statement, Harry and Meghan said that the royal rota system "predates the dramatic transformation of news reporting in the digital age" and they were changing their media relations policy to "reflect both their forthcoming change as members of the royal family with financial independence, and their wish to reshape and broaden access to their work."
Harry and Meghan said that they would give access to "credible media outlets focused on objective news reporting" and use social media "to share information directly to the wider public."
In the announcement of their new media relations policy, the Sussexes called out royal reporters — and, more specifically, the editors of their publications — for inaccurate reporting.
"Britain’s royal correspondents are regarded internationally as credible sources of both the work of members of the royal family as well as of their private lives," they said in a statement on their website. "This misconception propels coverage that is often carried by other outlets around the world, amplifying frequent misreporting. Regrettably, stories that may have been filed accurately by royal correspondents are, also, often edited or rewritten by media editorial teams to present false impressions."
They also criticized the royal rota system for the expectation that members of the royal family who wished to share private, personal pictures with members of the public would first provide those images to the press.
"Historically, the understanding with the royal rota expects that if Their Royal Highnesses were to release a photo that has never been seen, they would be expected to give the image to the rota (of which four of the seven are UK tabloids) simultaneously or in advance of their own release. This formula enables these select publications to profit by publishing these images on their websites/front pages."
The statement emphasized that they do not object to media scrutiny — as long as the coverage is fair.
"The Duke and Duchess believe in a free, strong and open media industry, which upholds accuracy and fosters inclusivity, diversity and tolerance," Their Royal Highnesses recognize that their roles as members of the Royal Family are subject to interest, and they welcome accurate and honest media reporting as well as being held to account if appropriate."