The Sussex Problem

I don’t usually discuss the private lives of members of the Royal Family on this blog, but today’s announcement that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will be stepping back as senior royals in favor raises a number of awkward issues.

The couple have said they will split their time between the United Kingdom and North America, though they also promise to “honor our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages.” Aside from the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936, there is no precedent for such a move. There have been royals who have gone on to lead largely private lives (e.g., Princess Margaret’s children), but the brother of a future king would ordinarily play a key support role.[1] At the very least, he would be expected to act as a Counsellor of State until the Duke of Cambridge’s children come of age.[2] He also has a statutory right to serve as regent for his nephew Prince George of Cambridge if the latter ascends the throne before his 18th birthday.[3]

While the Sussexes’ new website suggests that they want to continue supporting the work of the Monarchy, their new lifestyle could make this a tricky proposition. The Duke and Duchess have stated that they want to become financially independent by giving up funding from the Duchy of Cornwall and the Sovereign Grant. While this sounds laudable, they’ll have to tread carefully to avoid conflicts of interest, and the British government will likely be hypersensitive to accusations that the couple are using their official duties to enrich themselves.  

Despite their stated wish to become financially independent, the Sussexes have also said they will continue to receive protection from the Metropolitan Police, which is paid for by the British taxpayer. But some may well question why part-time royals should receive full-time protection at public expense (plus, the need to protect them in North America is likely to drive up the cost even further), so they may find themselves having to foot the bill for at least a portion of their security costs.

Unfortunately, the Duke and Duchess seem to have made their decision without consulting the Queen or other members of the Royal Family. This is highly regrettable, as the Sussexes need to have a solid plan in place before they embark on this new chapter of their lives–it’s not something they can make up as they go along. If this scheme is going to work, the Palace will need to help the couple find a modus vivendi that’s acceptable to everyone.   

[1] For example, George VI’s brother, the Duke of Gloucester, served as Governor General of Australia, while Princess Margaret deputized for the Queen on a number of occasions.

[2] Eligibility to serve as a Counsellor of State is set by the Regency Act 1937, and it includes the Sovereign’s consort and the first four people in the line of succession who are over the age of 21.

[3] In 1953, Parliament altered the law to allow the Duke of Edinburgh to serve as regent for the Prince of Wales (without that change, the duty would have fallen to Princess Margaret), and it wouldn’t be surprising if Parliament eventually made a similar provision for the Duchess of Cambridge to act as regent on behalf of her son.

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