What Commonwealth countries are saying about Harry and Meghan's racism claim

·Royal Correspondent
·8-min read

Watch: Duchess of Sussex tells Oprah there were 'concerns' about Archie's skin colour

A race row at the heart of the Royal Family has shone a spotlight on the monarchy's role at the heart of the Commonwealth.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have claimed a member of the Royal Family raised "concerns" about the colour of Archie's skin before he was born, with Meghan saying the conversations involved questions about "what that would mean".

The Queen responded by saying "recollections may vary" but pledging to take the allegation "very seriously".

While the interview with Oprah Winfrey is continuing to have huge fallout in the UK, it's also impacting the Commonwealth, a global network of nations, many of which have the Queen as their head of state.

It's led to calls in many of those nations to rethink the set-up, moving to an elected head of state.

As well as being head of state in the UK, the Queen is head of state in 15 nations like Canada, Australia and Jamaica. She is also head of the Commonwealth, an independent network of 54 nations.

Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has said of the row: "It’s clearly an unhappy family, or at least Meghan and Harry are unhappy. It seems very sad.”

Speaking on ABC TV he added: "I think, frankly, in Australia, there are more Elizabethans than there are monarchists.

“After the end of the Queen’s reign, that is the time for us to say – okay, we’ve passed that watershed and do we really want to have whoever happens to be head of state, the king or queen of the UK, automatically our head of state?”

NOTE: RETRANSMITTED AMENDING EMBARGO FROM 2200HRS TO 1700HRS GMT SUNDAY MARCH 7 Embargoed to 1700hrs GMT Sunday March 7 2021 Queen Elizabeth II signs her annual Commonwealth Day Message in St George's Hall at Windsor Castle.
The Queen signs her annual Commonwealth Day Message in St George's Hall at Windsor Castle. (PA)

Read more: Queen reflects on 'testing times' in Commonwealth address - hours before Harry and Meghan's Oprah interview

In stark contrast though, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern said: "I’ve said before that, you know, I’ve not sensed an appetite from New Zealanders for significant change in our constitutional arrangements, and I don’t expect that that’s likely to change quickly from New Zealanders.”

Last year, Barbados announced it would move to replace the Queen with an elected head of state by November 2021, when it marked 55 years of independence.

The Queen responded by saying the decision was a "matter for the people of Barbados".

But there is still some sentiment that the Queen as a link to the Commonwealth is important.

In a panel discussion with the University of London's Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICwS) following the Commonwealth Day service, Dr Anna Whitelock said severing the Queen's ties would "not be a good thing for the Commonwealth".

She said: "The legacy from her father is integral, she pledged in her infamous speech on her 21st birthday, her debut broadcast, where she talked about a life of service that she pledged.

"The Queen's relationship with the Commonwealth has defined her reign."

However she added that the link between the Royal Family and the Commonwealth damaged the Commonwealth because they were "out of touch".

Professor Philip Murphy, director of history and policy at the ICwS, told Yahoo UK that while the Queen had inherited the role of head of the Commonwealth she had essentially saved it on many occasions since the 1960s.

He said various governments had seen the Commonwealth as an "irritant" but interventions by Her Majesty in the 1970s and 1980s ensured the heads of government meetings continued.

*Scanned low-res from print, high-res available on request* Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh inspecting cadets from eleven Commonwealth countries who formed a guard of honour as they arrived at the Commonwealth Day Observance Service at Westminster Abbey.   (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh inspect cadets from eleven Commonwealth countries who formed a guard of honour at the Commonwealth Day Observance Service at Westminster Abbey in 1972. (PA Images via Getty Images)

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He said: "If you look through British government papers, there is a huge amount of prejudice to African leaders. They are basically seen as a bunch of crooks and dictators, but the Queen is the one person in the British government who is sympathetic to those leaders.

"She treats people like a long lost cousin. She's been around so long she probably knows their parents or grandparents.

"Although it looks paradoxical that you have the British monarch as head of the Commonwealth, especially when her reign started it was mostly an empire, she is almost a first generation new Commonwealth leader."

Alexander Downer, former Australian High Commissioner to the UK, told Newsnight: "Most Australians see this as a marginal issue, they've got many more important things to think about.

"Just imagine now when we are wrestling with the pandemic, deciding to have a huge public debate over the head of state when the current arrangement is the governor-general is the de facto head of state and there's huge admiration for the Queen."

The Winfrey interview with Meghan and Harry has reignited republican sentiment in some nations.

A Research Co poll, conducted in Canada shortly before the Winfrey interview found republican sentiment was growing.

Reaching the highest levels in 12 years, the survey found 45% of Canadians wanted to have an elected head of state.

Only one in four wanted Canada to remain under the monarchy.

Watch: Queen hails 'friendship and unity' in Commonwealth address ahead of Sussexes' explosive interview

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Responding to calls for a new head of state after the interview, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau said: "The answer is not to suddenly toss out all the institutions and start over.

"I wish all the members of the Royal Family all the best, but my focus is getting through this pandemic. If people want to later talk about constitutional change and shifting our system of government that's fine, and they can have those conversations, but right now I'm not having those conversations."

But his opposition, Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party, said the monarchy is "is in no way beneficial to Canadians in terms of their everyday life".

Canadian historian Carolyn Harris told Yahoo UK: "The interview has attracted critical scrutiny toward Prince Charles and Prince William and questions about the continued role of the monarchy in Canada.

"There is personal respect for the Queen and her decades of public service but an eventual transition from one reign to another will prompt further debate concerning whether the monarchy remains relevant in 21st century Canada, as well as discussion of constitutional monarchy as a system of government."

After the interview, Nicholas Sengoba, a newspaper columnist in Uganda, wrote that there are "unresolved issues" in his country over colonialism and asked if the Commonwealth heads should be "proud to eat dinner" with the Royal Family.

In Jamaica, the question about ending the connection with the British monarchy has been raised on several occasions, but its constitution makes it tough.

Carolyn Cooper, a professor in Jamaica, said: "What it should mean for us is that we should jump up and get rid of the Queen as the head of state.

"It's a disreputable institution. It's responsible for the enslavement of millions of us who came here to work on plantations. It's part of the whole legacy of colonialism and we need to get rid of it."

Newsweek pointed out that the two-hour interview, which has been watched by some 49 million people worldwide, was not licensed for television broadcast by 12 countries where the Queen is sovereign.

People in countries in the Caribbean including Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, The Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, and Jamaica are less likely to have seen the interview in full.

REDVALE, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 30:  Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex participate in a Wellie wanging contest while attending the Unveiling of The Queen's Commonwealth Canopy on October 30, 2018 in Redvale, New Zealand. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are on their official 16-day Autumn tour visiting cities in Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand.  (Photo by Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein / WireImage)
Harry and Meghan had been on several tours of Commonwealth nations while working royals, including New Zealand, here in October 2018. (WireImage)

Read more: Why didn't Harry and Meghan's race claim go straight to HR?

Despite not being shown in full, letters to newspapers reveal it did make an impact with Jamaicans.

One wrote to the Jamaica Gleaner: "Oprah Winfrey’s chilling interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry is a sober reminder that the time is ripe for Jamaica to sever its anachronistic relations with the British monarchy and to assert its sovereignty."

An editorial from News Americas, which covers Caribbean and Latin American regions, said: "In the Caribbean, the Queen is still recognised as the head of state of Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

"The majority of the population of these independent former British colonies are also black and brown, aka, 'dark skinned'.

"Why they have chosen to be independent nations but still hold on to the colonial trappings of their former slave master is anyone’s guess. But the question now is, after last night’s interview, what are they going to do about removing that last colonial vestige – aka, the Queen as their head of state.

"It is time these Caribbean nations emancipate themselves from the mental slavery and the last shackle of colonialism. If the Meghan/Harry tea spilling has revealed anything, it is the obvious racism that exists at the top of the so-called Royalist ticket."

The Commonwealth is frequently cited as something the Queen is particularly proud of from her near 70-year reign.

She regularly hosts the Commonwealth Head of Government Meetings (CHOGM) and her son Charles is expected to travel to the next one in June in Rwanda. He is also to be the next head of the Commonwealth.

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