This is an excerpt from The Royal Tea, BuzzFeed News' newsletter about the royal family. You can sign up here.
The Queen could find herself celebrating her 70th year on the British throne without all of her family by her side, as Prince Harry has claimed that it’s too dangerous for the Sussexes to visit the UK under the current security arrangements.
What does Harry want to protect his wife and children that his hired bodyguards can’t currently provide in the UK?
There’s one obvious, all-American answer: guns.
Unbeknownst to the public, for months the Duke of Sussex has been petitioning the UK government to allow him to pay for police protection for himself and his family while they are in the country. Harry was stripped of police security when he and his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, stepped back from life as working members of the royal family in 2020 — now he’s willing to pursue legal action in order to get it back.
On Jan. 16, the Mail on Sunday reported that Harry’s lawyers filed a request for a judicial review of the UK Home Office’s decision to bar the Sussexes from police protection. Depending on the results of the review, the matter could go before a High Court judge.
In response to what the Sussexes’ spokesperson called “a leak in a UK tabloid, with surreptitious timing,” they quickly released a statement to set “the facts right.”
“Prince Harry inherited a security risk at birth, for life,” the spokesperson said. “He remains sixth in line to the throne, served two tours of combat duty in Afghanistan, and in recent years his family has been subjected to well-documented neo-Nazi and extremist threats. While his role within the institution has changed, his profile as a member of the royal family has not. Nor has the threat to him and his family.
“The Duke and Duchess of Sussex personally fund a private security team for their family, yet that security cannot replicate the necessary police protection needed whilst in the UK. In the absence of such protection, Prince Harry and his family are unable to return to his home.”
The spokesperson said the duke’s security was compromised due to the absence of police protection while leaving a charity event during a visit to the UK in July — although no additional information was given, even after a further request by BuzzFeed News, about exactly what happened during this supposed 2021 security breach. After a subsequent failed attempt at negotiations with the Home Office, the Sussexes’ lawyers filed the formal request for judicial review in September.
“As is widely known, others who have left public office and have an inherent threat risk receive police protection at no cost to them. The goal for Prince Harry has been simple – to ensure the safety of himself and his family while in the UK so his children can know his home country,” said the spokesperson.
Of course, like any Harry and Meghan news, this sparked a media firestorm. Sussex critics accused Harry of overinflating the threat and seeking royal perks after rejecting official royal work. Sussex supporters pointed to Princess Diana’s lack of official police protection following her divorce and the role that may have played in her death.
Harry’s claim that he, Meghan, and their two small children can’t be safe in the UK without police officers guarding their backs may seem a bit odd when you consider the fact that the country’s rich and famous live in safety with their private security teams.
But private security guards in the UK cannot carry guns.
Until last year, Harry had always been protected in the UK by an elite — and armed — branch of the Metropolitan Police Service known as SO14, or the Royalty Protection Group. These taxpayer-funded guards provide 24/7 protection to the high-profile members of the royal family (the Queen, Prince Charles, the Cambridge family) and accompany other members of the royal family further down in the line of succession to official events and visits.
Only a select group of high-profile individuals, such as current and former prime ministers and foreign heads of state, are allowed to have police protection (and therefore armed protection) in the UK — and the Home Office must give its consent.
“Firearms are not an acceptable means of protection in Great Britain,” the December 2021 Home Office guide on firearm licensing states. “It has been the view of successive governments for many years that the private possession and carriage of firearms for personal protection is likely to lead to an increase in levels of violence.”
That’s not to say that police won't protect the Sussexes in a time of crisis. UK police are required by law to inform individuals if they’re aware of a threat to their life; it stands to reason that any potential threats would be reported to the Sussexes’ security team and officers would intervene if necessary.
As it stands, Harry has given every indication that he will not bring his wife and children to the UK unless he has police protection. Allowing him to pay for police security would be a groundbreaking precedent that could open the doors for other high-profile private individuals to make their own legal challenges.
A Sussex spokesperson declined to comment on the ongoing legal matter and referred BuzzFeed News to their previous statement. Buckingham Palace referred BuzzFeed News to the Home Office, which declined to comment on security matters.
The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations this summer will mark one of the biggest events in the history of the British monarchy and a golden opportunity for the Mountbatten-Windsor family to present a united front after a turbulent year.
Yet in a strange twist of fate, the decision that may determine whether or not the family will stand together on the Buckingham Palace balcony during the Jubilee celebrations could be made not by the Queen, but by the UK government.