The Duchess of Sussex did not take part in the Queen’s Sandringham summit to decide future roles for herself and Prince Harry, it has emerged, as the remaining full-time working royals returned to their round of official engagements.
Before Monday’s crisis family meeting, sources had indicated Meghan was likely to be personally involved in the urgent discussions precipitated by the couple’s shock announcement that they intended to “step back” from frontline royal duties.
She had been expected to participate via conference call from Vancouver Island, in Canada, to which she flew back on Thursday to be with the couple’s young son, Archie, and their two dogs which have been flown out.
The couple are said to have decided Meghan’s direct input was not necessary for the highly confidential meeting, hosted by the Queen, understood to have been led by the Prince of Wales, and attended by Princes William and Harry.
A palace source said: “In the end, the Sussexes decided it wasn’t necessary for the duchess to join.”
Harry was left to argue the couple’s case on his own, which was the first time all four senior royals had met face-to-face following the couple’s unexpected statement last Wednesday.
Confirmation that it was the couple’s decision for Meghan not to take part will stymie speculative reports she had been deliberately excluded, aides will hope.
Buckingham Palace has yet to reveal full details of how the Sussexes might achieve their goal of splitting time between the UK and Canada, stepping back as senior royals, and becoming financially independent by earning an income unfettered by royal constraints.
As senior palace officials concentrated on nailing the fine print, the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, revealed the federal Canadian government had not been involved “up until this point” about what the couple’s move there would mean.
The Queen has given the plan her reluctant blessing. In an unusually personal statement, released immediately after the 90-minute meeting at her Norfolk estate, she said it had been agreed her grandson and his wife would undertake a period of transition, split between both countries. It was clear, though, was that this was not the family’s preference.
“Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working members of the royal family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family,” her statement said.
The Queen also stressed that there were “complex matters” still to resolve, and that she wanted final decisions to be reached in the coming days. She reiterated the couple’s desire to no longer be reliant on public funds.
No details have been released over how they intend to achieve this. At present, 5% of their expenses come directly from the sovereign grant, the funding mechanism by which the state supports the monarchy. Taxpayers also cover security, and the cost of official overseas travel. The remainder is met by Prince Charles, from his income from the Duchy of Cornwall.
Another key issue is who will foot their security bill. At present the Metropolitan police provides armed round-the-clock protection, paid for by UK taxpayers, but any move to Canada will complicate matters.
Costs are likely to spiral as as they split their time between the UK and North America. One option could be for Charles to pay, out of his Duchy trust income. Should the Royal Canadian Mounted Police be required to provide domestic protection, costs could fall to the Canadian purse. Though Canada is a realm, with the Queen as head of state, many may baulk at that prospect.
Trudeau told Canada’s Global News that most Canadians were very supportive of having the royals in the country. “But how that looks and what kind of costs is involved, there is still lots of discussions to have,” he said.
Prince Harry’s first public engagement since the crisis will be on Thursday, when he conducts the draw for the Rugby League World Cup at Buckingham Palace. There is speculation he may then fly out to join his wife, with no indications of when they will return.
Meanwhile, other royals were conducting business as normal. The Queen announced an incoming state visit by the Emperor and Empress of Japan in the spring. Prince William performed a Buckingham Palace investiture ceremony in which he employed sign language to confer an MBE on Alex Duguid, who has signed ITV soap operas for deaf viewers. And the Duchess of Cornwall, as chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, conferred an honourary degree on her sister-in-law, the Princess Royal, for her lifetime of charity work.
Boris Johnson said he was “absolutely confident” the royal family can resolve the crisis. The prime minister told BBC breakfast: “My view on this is very straightforward: I am a massive fan, like most of our viewers, of the Queen and the royal family as a fantastic asset for our country.
“I’m absolutely confident that they are going to sort this out. But they are going to sort it out much more easily without a running commentary from politicians.”