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Harry and Meghan have let us down and they’ve let the Queen down

PUBLISHED: 11:56 09 January 2020 | UPDATED: 15:24 09 January 2020

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex during a reception for young people at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, in Edinburgh as part of their visit to Scotland. Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex during a reception for young people at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, in Edinburgh as part of their visit to Scotland. Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Harry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have announced they wish to step down as “senior” royals. What on earth is going on? Our columnist, monarchist and royal watcher JAMES MARSTON is appalled at this latest development.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex visiting the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, on day two of the royal couple's visit to Fiji. Photo: Phil Noble/PA WireThe Duke and Duchess of Sussex visiting the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, on day two of the royal couple's visit to Fiji. Photo: Phil Noble/PA Wire

Duty first and self second.

It's a simple maxim and one which ensures our monarchy survives and thrives. What about that don't the Duke and Duchess of Sussex understand?

Their latest announcement - coming after a six week break - that they "intend to step back as 'senior' members of the royal family and work to become financially independent" is shocking, irritating and, as far as I am concerned amounts to giving up and is little short of a dereliction of duty. I'm appalled.

Apparently it comes after many months of reflection and internal discussions - so it might but it's not a decision made after a ten year stint is it? They've only been married five minutes and they're calling time? I'm not sure they've reflected quite enough, and I can't see there's been much of a struggle going on internally - though I suppose I'm not privy to it all - there hasn't been the time.

We live in a world where self-serving individualism is paramount, and yet the royal family are a counter to that prevailing wind, a bulwark of public service and duty. And that's why we have them and admire them. They have huge perks in order to do their job, we ask a great deal of them, they generally command respect and we look after them, always. But for Meghan and Harry simply to announce what they intend without a word of apology or regret on social media without recourse to us, the paying public, and have the nerve to suggest they wish to be financially independent when they already are is verging on the ridiculous. Though I have some sympathy for them it is wearing a little thin, nor can I imagine I am alone on this.

Plenty of young boys lose their mothers, plenty of young men lose their way, and plenty of young parents find having a family is difficult. I can't imagine the public interest in them is easy but it's simply dealt with - never explain and never complain and just get on with the job - these two seem to be incapable of following those simple rules and rising above it all. Instead they do the exact opposite, they talk to the media about their troubles, thereby complaining and explaining and simply fuelling the fire.

And though no one knows the weight of another's burden - plenty, it seems to me, have harder burdens to bear without the advantages the Sussexes enjoy with which to bear them.

No one I know has the option to balance their time between the UK and North America either, to assume our ongoing support for these two is dangerous not because they don't have our empathy - no one goes through life unscathed - but playing the sympathy card and the violin of pity yet again in the public arena raises questions, the Royal family would be well advised to steer clear of.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex leaving after their visit to Canada House, central London. Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas /PA WireThe Duke and Duchess of Sussex leaving after their visit to Canada House, central London. Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas /PA Wire

Who pays? And what for? Do the Canadians want to pay? What about their much-vaulted carbon footprint? And what does financially independent even mean? Ongoing, incessant questions about money are, in my view, among the biggest threats to the Royal family because sooner or later the question will be asked - what do we get for all of it? I believe our monarchy worth the money, but this sort of behaviour quickly erodes public good will not because of what they are doing so much as because of the questions it raises. And is it me or is it simply patronising that a young man with an estimated £20-£30 million fortune - that hasn't come from a few years in the army - suddenly wants to be financially independent? I think that's verging on insulting.

The other concern I have is that their announcement smacks of a sense of entitlement that has never run so deep as since the days of Edward VIII and the abdication, when a King put himself first and his duty second. King George VI couldn't get out of it so easily, nor could Elizabeth II.

And I note with interest and horror that Buckingham Palace has issued, in response, what we might call in the journalistic trade as a holding statement - a few words saying nothing is sorted out yet and it's all early days. This suggests to me that, to make matters worse, Harry and Meghan are acting alone and under their own steam, perhaps under the misguided view that they have that right - well I'm not sure embarrassing the Queen is among them. The simple fact that Buckingham Palace itself - and that can only mean the Queen herself - is having to respond to their announcement in this way is deeply troubling and it wouldn't take a huge leap of imagination that the Queen, now in her 90s and showing herself as dutiful as ever, must be deeply, deeply embarrassed. The Prince of Wales, who will need his son's and his wife's support in the years to come, can't exactly be over the moon either. No wonder Prince William has reportedly been worried about his brother.

A senior royal is a senior royal until he or she is no longer high up in the order of succession. The obvious answer is, of course, the Sussexes can have the privacy and choices they need and feel entitled to if they give it all up; renounce their titles, renounce their places in the succession - a simple act of parliament or order in council can do this - and retire completely from public life, public money and public interest. They might even hand over their fortune to the charity of their choice. That would be a sacrifice but I don't see that quite happening either do you? The thing is history has shown that members of a royal family - however much sympathy one feels for them - can't really have their cake and eat it, it's just not part of the deal.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex as they leave St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle following their wedding. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA WireThe Duke and Duchess of Sussex as they leave St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle following their wedding. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

I'm appalled yes - and perhaps it's easy to be harsh - but I'm sad for them too.

Meghan might have known what she was letting herself in for, but it clearly is too much for her. And it looks like Harry isn't coping well either.

Let's hope this couple overcome their difficulties, and let's hope it works out. They might be royal but they're human too.

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