Voices: Willy and Harold and the cursed dog bowl: How a sibling scrap threatens to topple the royal family

“I landed on the dog’s bowl. Pieces cut into me”. That particular detail in Harry’s account of his scrap with his elder brother struck a rather tragi-comic note of bathos.

It also gave the story the ring of truth, especially as we hear rumours that Prince William has a bit of a temper on him, rather surprising given his serene, slightly self-effacing public persona. He is alleged to have laid into Meghan verbally – “difficult”, “rude”, “abrasive” and then it is claimed that he physically laid into his younger brother. It conjures up quite a disturbing image, this princely fracas, and is made all the more poignant as Harry uses their pet names: “Willy” and “Harold”.

That was all three or four years ago, and things seem to have gone downhill from there. They’d probably still be brawling now if the Atlantic Ocean and most of North America weren’t keeping them apart. As so often, if we believe Harry’s reported account, the royal gossip turned out to be more than true – relations are indeed “strained”.

Where will it all end? Harry reportedly wants a summit and an apology from his father and brother for his various grievances, which may well be justified. The problem for Harry is that the more of this back story he mines and dumps in the public domain, such as claims William “encouraged him” to wear the infamous Nazi soldier costume, the less chance there is of any reconciliation. It destroys trust and a sense of confidentiality. Indeed, it already has.

One of his complaints is reportedly that the “Sandringham Summit” with the family and the Queen held to arrange the terms of Megxit almost exactly three years ago excluded Meghan, who wanted to join in from California by video link. It was apparently refused because… the others thought it would be recorded and leaked in due course by the Sussexes. Already drained of trust, the idea of a fresh summit to sober things out edges further away with each fresh revelation.

William, Charles, the courtiers and the rest of them cannot be confident that any meeting would remain confidential and not be leaked to the press, ironically. Nor, though, can they present their alternative version of events, because that would merely entice more counter-claims from the exiled duke and duchess. It seems likely there are even more devastating stories and allegations sitting in Harry and Meghan’s armoury; nuclear-tipped cruise missiles ready to lobbed at Buckingham Palace and St James Palace any time the Sussexes want to press the button. The delivery mechanisms – Netflix films, friendly interviews, books – are well developed. Their PR machine is becoming formidable. And perhaps there are what might be called “race bombs” ready to be detonated – including the one hinted at in their televised audience with Oprah Winfrey.

On the disputed facts, the choice for the Palace is whether to concede the summit meeting and apology the Sussexes demand; or take the Sussexes on publicly; or to for ever maintain their motto of never complain, never explain: a dignified silence and hope that eventually what they regard as the madness of Prince Harry and the Sussex bin fire eventually runs out of fuel.

All are unsatisfactory, but of the three the worst would be to go to war with the Sussexes, whatever the provocation and however much the media would love it (stripping of titles, counter-claims, public denunciations). It would be a gruesome re-run of the war between Charles and Diana in the 1990s, the so-called “war of the Waleses”, with once again a series of books and interviews throwing claims and resentments around the public domain – and it seems likely that the Sussexes do possess weaponry on race that would seriously damage the standing of the institution in the UK and the Commonwealth.

It is quite the deterrent. The Cold War between the Windsors could trundle on for many years to come, a constant distraction for the House of Windsor. Sooner or later the British people may wonder, as they shiver and go hungry, why their reigning family seems to be more concerned about their family differences than the welfare of the nation.

The least worst option would be for the King and the Prince of Wales totake the risk of meeting the Sussexes, conceding past errors and mistakes. A form of words could be constructed – and confirm their status as loved members of the family, by offering symbolic support for their Sussexes’ independent work for their own causes – and leaving the option open for closer future collaboration.

The Sussexes would be doing their own thing, monetising monarchy, but they’d be allowed to turn up and do a few ceremonials and have some police security to keep them happy. In return all involved – including “sources” – would be honour bound not to tell tales. It’s not much, but they can’t go on like this. A reconciliation, more or less on Harry’s terms might end the debilitating conflict. It’s a way out, and in the best interests of the constitutional monarchy.