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Why this deal or no deal was the stark reality of choice for the Sussexes

Camilla Tominey
Harry and Meghan are 'stepping back' from the Royal family - Splash News

There was always something paradoxical about Buckingham Palace’s insistence that the “complex” and “complicated” Sussex situation could be resolved in days not weeks.

In the end it took 10 days from the moment the Duke and Duchess dropped their bombshell on January 8 to the Queen effectively granting their decree absolute from ‘the Firm’ on Saturday night - a quickie divorce if ever there was one

In retrospect, the phrase “these are complicated issues that will take time to work through” - rushed out in response to Harry and Meghan’s sudden demand for a new half-in-half-out royal role - now resembles palace code for: “Ain’t never going happen”.

For what we have witnessed over the past week and a half is less a negotiation and more a mediation between the warring Windsors - once again with the Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge on one side and Harry and Meghan on the other.

For had there ever really been a chance of making the couple's ambitious “Sussex Royal” plan work - as per the couple’s website - the Duchess would have surely been required to dial into last Monday’s summit at Sandringham. That the Sussexes “did not deem it necessary” suggests that what was being ironed out was a full separation of powers rather than the “progressive” collaboration they had craved. 

The Queen’s admission that this came not just after recent discussions but “many months of conversations” suggests that the ‘abdication crisis’ can be traced right back to the royal wedding of May 2018, when as ITV News anchor Tom Bradby put it: “A lot of harsh things were said.”

Although the ceremony at St George’s Chapel went without a hitch, storm clouds soon began brewing amid reports of a falling out between Meghan and her sister-in-law the Duchess of Cambridge and rumours the newlyweds had been demanding over the details of their big day.

The Queen allegedly had to have words with her grandson after Harry told palace staff: “What Meghan wants, Meghan gets,” following a supposed row over a tiara.

After six months of ‘rift’ rumours between Harry and William came the unexpected announcement in November 2018 that the Kensington Palace household shared by the Cambridges and the Sussexes was to split with Harry and Meghan moving to Frogmore Cottage in Windsor.

Again the 93-year-old monarch was forced to intervene when the couple demanded their own independent court in Windsor, only to be told they would be absorbed into the Buckingham Palace operation.

The move was a response to the couple feeling ‘pushed out’, but in fact it only served to strengthen the Sussexes’ sense of sequestration.

As one royal aide put it: “It became a case of Harry and Meghan against the rest of the world”.

While news of the couple’s pregnancy in the autumn of 2018 delighted the Queen, eyebrows were raised when, the following April, Meghan travelled to New York for a star studded baby shower without taking anyone from the palace press office. The two-day celebration in the Big Apple, featuring appearances by tennis star Serena Williams and Amal Clooney, who flew Meghan home on her private jet, suggested that the couple were increasingly operated in a silo. Coming after five of Meghan’s friends had given interviews to People magazine in the US suggesting that she was suffering from “emotional trauma”, the Sussexes appeared to be straying from the Queen’s mantra: “Never complain, never explain.”

Then came their unprecedented decision not only to shroud aspects of their son Archie’s birth in secrecy last May, but also to keep his christening private and details of his godparents under wraps.

The Queen tried to broker peace, inviting the new family of three to spend a weekend at Balmoral last summer but they declined, opting instead to take four private jet flights in 10 days to visit celebrity friends including Sir Elton John.

When the couple then gave an interview to Bradby during last October’s tour of Africa and released a statement attacking the press without first informing HM (although she knew about the legal action against the Mail on Sunday over Meghan's letter to her father Thomas Markle Snr), it seemed communications had broken down completely.

Meghan's near-tearful declaration that: “Not many people have asked if I'm okay,” appeared a thinly veiled swipe at her royal relatives, while Harry’s confirmation that he and his brother were “certainly on different paths at the moment," only served to fan the flames. 

The situation got so bad that in November, the Queen was forced to personally telephone Harry to find out he and Meghan would be joining the rest of the Royal Family at Sandringham for Christmas - only to be told they would be embarking on a six-week sabbatical instead.

Aware that the Sussexes were unhappy, the palace agreed to give them some breathing space. 

Having been told by his father to commit his plans to paper, Harry returned on January 6 and demanded a meeting with the Queen, fearing his blueprint might be leaked to the press. When that meeting was blocked by Charles’s office - seemingly angry that Harry was trying to undermine 'Papa", aides furiously tried to find a resolution with the Queen warning the couple not to go public. But when the Sun newspaper broke the news they were planning a move to Canada two days later, Harry and Meghan felt their hand had been forced. 

While it is true that the Queen was only given minutes notice of the Sussexes'' ‘personal message’ being released at 6.30pm, the fall out was indeed months in the making.

Yet the swiftness of the resolution suggests that there was never much chance of Harry and Meghan's cake-and-eat-it wish of becoming “financially independent” royals being granted.  

Almost as soon as the couple released their game plan on their Sussex Royal website, palace sources were swiftly briefing that these were “ideas” rather than statements of fact. 

Taking control of the situation, fully supported by Charles and William, the stalwart sovereign was in no mood to prolong the agony, convening a working group to explore all the options - before summoning a family summit last Monday to thrash out a deal.

Much of the preliminary discussions concerned Harry and Meghan's tax affairs - most notably the financial implications of splitting their time between the UK and North America. 

With Harry already having offered to dispense with Sovereign Grant funding and pay back the £2.4 million spent renovating Frogmore, the main sticking points were said to be the couple’s HRH status, security arrangements and future Duchy of Cornwall funding - which perhaps explains why all three remain partially unresolved. While not ‘stripped’ of their HRHS, their inability to use the regal 'style' casts huge doubt on the viability of the ‘Sussex Royal’ brand. Meanwhile “independent processes” will determine the need for publicly-funded security and ultimately Charles will decide how much more money he is willing to shell out - both from the duchy and his own private reserves. The new model will not take effect until spring, with funding to be ‘phased out’ over the course of the next 12 months. As with Brexit, it seems this so-called hard Megxit comes with a transition period.