A 'big surprise' and a lot of questions: Why Harry and Meghan's new life is anything but clear

The seismic announcement this week that Prince Harry and Meghan plan to "step back" as senior members of the Royal Family seemed to catch most everyone off guard, and put a big question mark over just what life is going to look like for the sixth-in-line to the throne and his wife.

Duke and Duchess of Sussex to 'step back' from roles as senior members of Royal Family

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, are all smiles during their visit to Canada House in London on Tuesday. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/Getty Images)

In ways, it seemed like Prince Harry and Meghan were settling back into royal life as it's generally known.

After six weeks out of the public eye and time spent over Christmas on Vancouver Island, there the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were in London earlier this week, back on regular royal duty, smiling and waving as they stopped by Canada House.

Then came Wednesday's seismic announcement that seemed to catch most everyone off guard, and put a big question mark over just what life is going to look like for the sixth-in-line to the throne and his wife.

Harry and Meghan said they plan to "step back" as senior members of the Royal Family, work toward becoming financially independent and "balance" their time between the United Kingdom and North America.

Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal author and historian, found the timing of the announcement quite unexpected.

"It was a big surprise that this announcement was made," she said.

"Harry and Meghan had returned from Canada, had visited Canada House, had visited one of Meghan's charities and seemed to be returning to royal duties after a six-week pause, so it seemed like they had stepped back into public life, and then this announcement took place."

Harris also found it surprising that it's clear not all the details have been hammered out with Buckingham Palace.

That situation was apparent in a short comment issued by the palace a few hours later noting that discussions with Harry and Meghan are still "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 palace statement said.

And there are a lot of issues. What does financial independence mean? Can a royal just go off and live somewhere else? What about any security they might need? Who will pay for that, particularly when they are outside the U.K.?

"How all this will play out down the road remains to be seen," the Monarchist League of Canada said in a statement on Twitter.

Watch a British politician speak on Harry and Meghan:

Harry and Meghan should make their own decisions: politician

3 years ago
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British politician says Harry and Meghan have done enough, let them step back

"We should not jump to conclusions about what may in practice develop as they seek to become 'financially independent' and exactly how it is they will "carve out a progressive new role" within the institution.

'Warm feelings'

That Harry and Meghan suggest they will split their time between the U.K. and North America inevitably invites the question of how much of that time might be spent in Canada, particularly given their recent stay in the country, and connections they both have to it.

"Clearly they have very warm feelings towards Canada and Canadians," said Harris. "Meghan has described herself as an honorary Canadian because of the time she spent living here filming Suits."

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Harry visited as a child and teenager, and spent time in Alberta during his early military years. The couple's relationship developed out of the spotlight in Toronto, where they eventually went public as a couple during the Invictus Games in 2017.

"We see that Canada is a place where clearly they feel comfortable," said Harris. "They both like spending time in the natural world. They spent time hiking during their recent time in Canada.

Prince Harry and Meghan attend a wheelchair tennis event at the Invictus Games in Toronto on Sept. 25, 2017. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

"So likely we'll continue to see Canada as a big part of their lives going forward."

But if they did choose to spend significant time here, how would that work? Would they become citizens?

"The Queen is the personification of the state so the Queen does not require a passport in order to travel and is a Canadian in the context of her role as Queen of Canada. That does not apply to her extended family," said Harris. "They don't automatically have citizenship in 16 different Commonwealth realms."

So questions remain there, depending on how long they might wish to spend here at any given time.

What about the finances?

And then there's the money.

Both Harry and Meghan will have private financial resources they could draw upon — Meghan from her career as an actor, Harry from inheritances from his mother Diana, Princess of Wales, and his great-grandmother, the Queen Mother. But it's less clear just how the "financial independence" they seem to be seeking might evolve as they seek to cut their tie with the Sovereign Grant, which covers five per cent of their official expenses.

All this comes after controversy swirled, particularly in the U.K., over the public funds that went toward renovations of their new home at Frogmore Cottage, near Windsor Castle.

"It's clear Harry and Meghan want to remove themselves from that kind of criticism that if they are using public money to renovate their home, therefore the public has the right to expect a certain window into their private lives," said Harris.

Controversy has swirled over the public funds used to renovate Harry and Meghan's home, Frogmore Cottage, near Windsor Castle. (GOR/Getty Images)

Might seeking financial independence mean they end up getting jobs? There's no easy answer there, either.

"There is a problem for members of the Royal Family — relatively senior ones, even if they say they're no longer senior — getting jobs, because they are seen to monetize their brand and you run into a whole host of questions about conflict of interest," BBC royal correspondent Jonny Dymond told the BBC website.

Still, one thing seems a little more certain out of all this: the impact it could have on the Royal Family, particularly coming as it does when there are fewer active high-profile members.

Harry's grandfather, Prince Philip, is 98 and retired from official duties. The Queen's cousins are growing older, too, and do fewer royal duties. Harry's uncle, Prince Andrew, has also stepped away from royal duties in the fallout from his recent BBC interview over his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Harris said all that leaves a lot of public engagements for Harry's father Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, and Harry's brother Prince William and his wife, Kate.

"It's going to be very busy for them in the coming years," Harris said.


Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.

With files from The Associated Press


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