Buckingham Palace has insisted discussions with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are at an “early stage” after the couple dramatically announced they plan to “step back” as senior members of the royal family.
In a bombshell move on Wednesday night, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex revealed plans to split their time between the UK and the US.
Harry and Meghan said in a personal statement they will work to become “financially independent”, while continuing to “fully support” the Queen.
But Buckingham Palace warned the couple their decision to “step back” from the royal family will be “complicated”.
The sequence of events led to speculation that a rift has developed at the heart of the monarchy - and that the couple did not consult the Queen or the Prince of Wales about the contents of their statement.
The pair said: “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.
“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.”
But a Buckingham Palace spokesperson later said discussions were “at an early stage”, adding: “We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”
The BBC’s royal correspondent reported that no other member of the royal family was consulted before the statement, and the palace is understood to be “disappointed” and “hurt”.
The PA Media news agency also claimed Harry and Meghan had just begun talks with the Queen and Charles about their future roles when they made their decision to go public.
The head of state and her son were only recently informed of the Sussexes intention to explore their public positions as members of the monarchy, and were not aware the statement was due to be issued.
The proposed move would see them balance their time between the UK and North America, while “continuing to honour our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages”.
Harry and Meghan said it would allow them to raise their son Archie “with an appreciation for the royal tradition” while also giving them “space to focus on the next chapter”.
The couple’s plans include the launch of a new charity.
“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,” the statement added.
“Until then, please accept our deepest thanks for your continued support.”
The Sussex’s financial aims have been outlined on their official website which states the couple “…value the ability to earn a professional income, which in the current structure they are prohibited from doing. For this reason they have made the choice to become members of the royal family with financial independence.”
Any future role which the couple take on for financial gain will have to be scrutinised to ensure they are not seen as profiteering from their position as members of the monarchy.
Royal commentators are likely to interpret the couple’s decision – and the Jeffrey Epstein sex scandal that has engulfed the Duke of York – as a full-blown crisis for the monarchy.
Harry – one of the most popular members of the royal family with the public – and Andrew will now have a far lower public profile at a time of potentially great change for the country as Britain leaves the EU.
The couple’s move follows weeks of speculation about their future after they took an extended break from royal duties over the festive period.
In an ITV documentary they spoke about the pressures they have been facing and family rifts, and in a separate move Harry issued a damning statement against the media accusing sections of the press of bullying his wife.
Graham Smith from the organisation Republic, which campaigns for an elected head of state, said about Harry and Meghan’s decision: “This really is wanting to have your cake and eat it. They have said they will dip in and out of royal duties as it suits them but won’t stop taking public money until they find other sources of income.”
Harry and Meghan have only recently returned from their six-week break spent in the Canadian province of British Columbia with their eight-month-old son Archie.
Their first royal engagement of the new decade was to visit Canada’s High Commission in central London to thank Canadians in person for the warmth of the welcome they received.
It is likely they will be spending their time in the Commonwealth country when not in the UK and may travel to America, Meghan’s homeland and where her mother lives.
Any move to Canada, even for a period of the year, would throw up important questions about Meghan and Harry’s long-term future within the royal family.
Meghan, a former actress, lived and worked in Toronto during her time starring in the popular US drama Suits, and the couple were famously pictured together when Meghan joined her then-boyfriend Harry at the 2017 Invictus Games in the city.
The cost of security for the couple would also be an issue, and as Canada is a realm, a country where the Queen is head of state, it may have to pay for keeping the couple and their son Archie safe.
The couple’s aim to be “financially independent” may point towards them seeking a job, or a paid role with an organisation whose aims complement their own beliefs.
Other members of the monarchy who have salaried jobs include the Queen’s grandchildren Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie and Peter Phillips.