THE Duke and Duchess of Sussex are to ‘step back’ as senior royals and stop living in the UK full-time, they revealed in a shock announcement last night.
Harry and Meghan said they aimed to be ‘financially independent’ of the taxpayer and would divide their time between Britain and North America.
They did not consult the Queen before revealing the bombshell news, BBC royal correspondent Jonny Dymond reported. Senior royals were said to be ‘disappointed and hurt’.
It follows mounting speculation about the couple, including fears for their mental health and claims of a rift between Harry and Prince William.
In their Instagram announcement, the duke and duchess did not explicitly explain their reasons for distancing themselves from family duties. ‘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,’ they told followers.
‘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.’
American divorcee Meghan spent many years in Commonwealth country Canada when she starred in TV series Suits. And the couple appeared to hint that they intend to make a home there.
They said spending part of their time in North America would allow them to ‘continue to honour 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 space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity,’ they said in the statement.
‘We look forward to sharing the full details of this exciting next step in due course, as we continue to collaborate with Her Majesty The Queen, The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Cambridge and all relevant parties. Until then, please accept our deepest thanks for your continued support.’
Nearly two hours after the announcement, Buckingham Palace put out a brief statement saying discussions with the duke and duchess were 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,’ a spokesman said.
Harry, 35, and Meghan, 38, have just returned from a six-week break from public life that included a stay in North America.
They have struggled with the spotlight since their 2018 wedding that delighted millions of TV viewers. Meghan, who gave birth to son Archie last May, admitted in an ITV documentary that intense public scrutiny had proved a ‘struggle’.
Harry has said he has to work to manage his mental health and has admitted that the death of his mother Diana in a 1997 car crash is a ‘wound that festers’.
Some royal watchers had suggested the couple would do well to step back after Prince William reportedly expressed worry that they were in a ‘fragile place’.
But critics last night accused the pair of running away across the Atlantic.
Piers Morgan, the outspoken presenter of ITV’s This Morning, tweeted: ‘People say I’m too critical of Meghan Markle — but she ditched her family, ditched her dad, ditched most of her old friends, split Harry from William and has now split him from the Royal Family. I rest my case.’
Campaign group Republic, which wants the monarchy to be abolished, said: ‘Seems Harry and Meghan want to spend less time doing very little and more time doing not much at all.’
It added on Twitter: ‘No doubt people will applaud Harry and Meghan, but that misses the point that we’ve never owed them a living and the notion of being a “working royal” is just more nonsense from the royal spin office.’
The couple’s statement immediately made big news around the world.
But there was a tongue-in-cheek response from Illinois in the US, where Meghan once attended university.
‘Northwestern graduate moving closer to home after spending time abroad,’ read the Chicago Tribune’s headline.
Pressure was showing on trip to Africa
THE Duchess of Sussex shocked the world last year when she told a reporter she was ‘existing’ rather than ‘living’ since her marriage and birth of her son Archie.
During Harry and Meghan’s working tour of South Africa last October, ITV’s Tom Bradby said he noticed the couple looked ‘bruised and vulnerable’ and took the unprecedented step of asking about their mental health.
Meghan replied: ‘Any woman, especially when they’re pregnant, you’re really vulnerable.
‘So that was made really challenging and then when you have a newborn — especially as a woman, it’s really, it’s a lot. So you add this on top of just trying to be a new mum or trying to be a newlywed.’
She continued: ‘Also thank you for asking, because not many people have asked if I’m OK. But it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes.’ Mr Bradby then asked her: ‘Would it be fair to say, not really OK, as in it’s really been a struggle?’ Meghan, visibly upset, replied: ‘Yes.’
During the trip, Harry was also filmed saying that he and his brother were on ‘different paths’ and that he was considering leaving the UK to live in Africa.
Independence… with fortune of £30million
HARRY and Meghan stressed their wish to become ‘financially independent’, suggesting they could earn money from celebrity or charity work.
The couple — believed to have a combined fortune of at least £30million — faced criticism last year when it emerged £2.4million of public money was spent renovating Frogmore Cottage, their home near Windsor Castle.
Their wedding cost an estimated £32million and about £500,000 was spent on Meghan’s maternity wardrobe.
Harry and his brother William inherited £15.8million from their mother Diana, and a share of the Queen Mother’s £70million fortune. The duke gets an annual allowance from Prince Charles, who reportedly paid £4.9million from his Duchy of Cornwall income to William, Harry and their partners last year. Meghan is thought to have her own fortune of about £3.8million from her film and TV career.
Abdicating royal and another US divorcee
THE last major royal to ‘quit’ was Edward VIII — also for the love of an American divorcee.
He chose to abdicate in 1936 after just 11 months as king — albeit without being crowned — after a furore over his engagement to twice-married Wallis Simpson, who was in the throes of divorce.
He was made Duke of Windsor, married Wallis, and later became governor of the Bahamas amid accusations of being a Nazi sympathiser.