It’s official: Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan of Sussex are not returning to the United Kingdom to resume their senior royal roles after a year-end review of their departure agreement, Buckingham Palace confirmed Friday.
Harry and Meghan will surrender their royal patronages and military appointments under the new terms of the Sandringham Summit agreement that governed their departure in March 2020, the palace said in a statement sent to USA TODAY.
“The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have confirmed to Her Majesty The Queen that they will not be returning as working members of The Royal Family,” the statement said.
“Following conversations with The Duke, The Queen has written confirming that in stepping away from the work of The Royal Family it is not possible to continue with the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service. The honorary military appointments and Royal patronages held by The Duke and Duchess will therefore be returned to Her Majesty, before being redistributed among working members of The Royal Family.”
When Harry and Meghan stepped away from full-time royal life in early 2020, it was agreed the situation would be reviewed after a year.
This means Harry and Meghan, residents of California for nearly a year, will give up their honorary appointments to the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust and the Association of Commonwealth Universities. Harry will lose his honorary appointments to the Royal Marines, the RAF base Honington and the Royal Navy Small Ships and Diving.
He will also surrender his patronages of the Rugby Football Union and the Rugby Football League, and she will surrender her patronage of the Royal National Theatre, which was handed down to her from his grandmother the queen.
“While all are saddened by their decision, The Duke and Duchess remain much loved members of the family,” the palace statement added.
A spokesperson for Harry and Meghan in London sent a statement shortly after to USA TODAY: “As evidenced by their work over the past year, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex remain committed to their duty and service to the U.K. and around the world, and have offered their continued support to the organizations they have represented regardless of official role.
“We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.”
The announcement was expected but the timing was a surprise. The departure agreement between the Sussexes, the queen, Harry’s father, Prince Charles, his brother, Prince William, and senior palace courtiers, was negotiated last January during a “summit” at Sandringham, the queen’s private Norfolk estate, and took effect last March.
Many royal observers were expecting the review to be announced next month, following Zoom meetings between the principals. The reason for the early announcement was not disclosed.
But recent events may have played a role: Harry, 36, and Meghan, 39, announced last week they are expecting their second child this year. The baby is likely to be born in the U.S. so he or she will be an American citizen by birth, forging an even closer bond between Harry and his new home.
Harry’s grandfather, Prince Philip, the queen’s 99-year-old husband, was admitted to a London hospital and is still there as a precaution after he began feeling unwell on Tuesday night.
And the coronavirus pandemic is still a major threat, making it impossible for either Sussex to return to the United Kingdom to speak to the queen and the others in person about the review of their departure agreement.
As a practical matter, Harry’s military appointments were up in the air due to the fact he’s unable to travel to the U.K. during the coronavirus pandemic. But as a former officer in the British Army for 10 years, these associations were important to him.
In the original Sandringham Agreement, the queen agreed to put those appointments on hold and not assign them to any other members of her family during the first year of the agreement.
Now they’ve all concluded the couple can’t carry out duties representing the monarchy while living an ocean and continent away, especially if they are also pursuing commercial activities. Half-in and half-out of the royal “firm” was never a sustainable option.
Harry and Meghan shocked the U.K. and the world in January 2020 when they announced they were “stepping back” from their royal roles and moving with baby Archie, who will be 2 in May, to North America to pursue more freedom, privacy and financial independence.
That set off two months of acrimony and recriminations, tense negotiations with Harry’s family and palace courtiers, and furious accusations by the British tabloids that the couple were abandoning duty to get rich in America.
Now they’re budding Hollywood moguls who signed high-priced deals with Netflix and Spotify to produce entertainment content and podcasts. They’ve been locked down like everyone else but they’re spending the pandemic in their newly purchased home, a sprawling luxury estate in pricey Montecito outside Santa Barbara, California. And they’ve lately seen a string of legal wins against tabloids over complaints of libel and invasion of privacy.
The queen, 94, hasn’t seen Archie in person since the fall of 2019, in part thanks to the pandemic, which has kept the nonagenarian royals protected in a royal bubble at Windsor Castle for most of the last nine months. Like everyone else, the queen and her husband have learned how to Zoom call with her family.
The couple recently announced that they will speak to Oprah Winfrey in a TV special to be broadcast next month.
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