Reading between the lines: What the royal statements really mean
TORONTO -- As the fallout from Prince Harry and Meghan’s desire to ‘step back’ from the monarchy and Buckingham Palace’s response continues, CTV News royal commentator Richard Berthelsen reads between the lines to decipher what the royals may have meant in their extraordinary statements.
Prince Harry and Meghan’s statement:
“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.”
It’s the first sentence of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s message and it’s also one of the most important, according to Berthelsen. He said the word “progressive” implies the couple is looking to become more political on certain subjects. According to royal protocol, the family is forbidden from taking a public position on political matters.
“For example, if you look at their statement on the wildfire situation in Australia, you see the use of the word ‘ecocide,’” he said. “The other three statements that came from the Queen, the Prince of Wales, Prince William, you wouldn't see a word like that.”
Berthelsen said Meghan, in particular, is interested in championing the cause of women rights around the world.
“They want to jump right in on issues like that,” he said. “They want to be much more activist than is possible within the Royal Family.”
“Within this institution”
Berthelsen said it’s important to note the Duke and Duchess of Sussex used the word “within” the institution of the monarchy, instead of “outside” of it. He said that’s because they appear to still want to retain their titles, their office, and their status in the family.
How that will work, if they’re no longer working members of the Royal Family, remains to be seen, however.
Berthelsen said the family will have to determine how Prince Harry’s new role in the monarchy will affect the constitution and his current position in the line of succession. He said Prince Harry is also currently a “counsellor of state,” which means he can be required to fill in for the Queen on certain occasions.
Berthelsen said the government would have to become involved and there would most likely be changes in legislature if Prince Harry were to forgo his position as a “counsellor of state.”
“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.”
Berthelsen said Prince Harry and Meghan’s desire to become “financially independent” is another critical aspect of their statement. He said he thinks this relates to their new media management strategy, which they laid out on their website on Wednesday.
Berthelsen said Prince Harry and Meghan want to disassociate from Buckingham Palace’s press office so they can make their own arrangements with media outlets. Under the current “Royal Rota” system, accredited media gain access to royal engagements on a sharing pool basis.
If the Duke and Duchess of Sussex no longer rely on public funds, it would allow them to monetize their brand by giving certain outlets exclusive access to their photos and events.
“That is a bombshell statement,” Berthelsen said. “They want financial independence so that they don't have to be held to account for deals that they make with members of the media.”
Berthelsen said the couple plans to give up five per cent of their office funding, which comes from the public treasury, and rely on the other 95 per cent, which comes from Prince Charles’ funding.
“The reality is, is that Prince Charles's money is fundamentally public money for complex reasons,” Berthelsen said.
The royal commentator said there will also be other questions, such as who will pay for their security, and how the couple plans to justify keeping their home at Frogmore Cottage on the grounds of Windsor Castle, which was a gift from the Queen.
"We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing 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 the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity.”
While Berthelsen said he doesn’t know where the couple plans to make their primary residence, he said it’s clear they want to spend more time away from the United Kingdom. It may be difficult for them to move to Canada, as the rumours suggest, because neither Prince Harry nor Meghan are Canadian citizens.
If they want to move the United States, where Meghan is a citizen, Berthelsen said they will have to figure out the tax and immigration issues that go along with that.
As for finding “space” for their family, Berthelsen said he’s not sure they will find as much privacy in North America as they might hope.
“I don't know how long the Canadian media would indulge that, I don't know how long the world media would indulge that,” he said. “I think they’re very idealistic in terms of how that might work.”
Buckingham Palace’s response:
“Discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage.”
Berthelsen said he thinks the palace had “no idea” Prince Harry and Meghan were going to release a statement of that “magnitude.” He said the Royal Family also probably didn’t expect the couple to share background information on their website regarding how they would become financially independent and interact with the media.
“This is like basically a public figure filing for divorce and making their demands on their spouse public and using that as a bargaining chip to negotiate a settlement,” he said.
“We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues”
Berthelsen said he thinks the palace used the word “complicated” in its statement because it really is a “complicated” matter.
“The constitutional situation is extremely complex because they're [Prince Harry and Meghan] not taking into account that he has military appointments. He has other appointments that only a member of the Royal Family can have, they’re ceremonial and they may not be his priority,” he said.
“So what’s going to become of all that? What’s becoming of his role as counsellor of state? Is he saying he’s no longer going to recognize his position in the line of succession?”
Berthelsen also raised the point that governments, including Canada’s, will become involved if there are changes to the line of succession or if Prince Harry were to move to Canada.
“We also have a system here where the Governor General, Lieutenant Governor, represent the Queen and perform her functions here. How is it going to work if there's actually a member of the Royal Family in our midst?” he asked.
“These are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”
Berthelsen said it’s not a matter of whether the palace will accept Prince Harry and Meghan’s decision.
“I think it's been quite clear throughout the fall that there was going to be something, something that was going to change,” he said.
Berthelsen said he thinks the Royal Family understands that, but they were not expecting the couple to lay out the terms of that change in such a public manner.
As for what happens next, Berthelsen said he thinks the matter is “far from over” and a lot more decisions will have to be made before Prince Harry and Meghan’s new roles within the monarchy become clear.
“I think they think they can become kind of a celebrity royal couple, which is kind of very different than being a working member of the royal family,” he said.