The Royal Family was said to be “hurt” and “deeply disappointed” on Wednesday night after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex “stepped back” as senior members without consulting the Queen, the Prince of Wales or the Duke of Cambridge.
In an extraordinary statement released on Wednesday night, the couple announced plans to “step back” from their current roles and split their time between the UK and North America.
The move left the 93-year-old monarch and royal aides blindsided as they had only “very recently” been made aware of the Sussex’s intentions. Aides stressed the announcement was “personal” and had not been approved by the palace.
In a statement released almost two hours later, Buckingham Palace said the couple’s “desire to take a different approach” created “complicated issues” that would take time to resolve.
The unprecedented announcement was branded “devastating” for the Queen, who has already endured a terrible few months having had to effectively implore the Duke of York to stand down from public duties over his relationship with paedophile billionaire Jeffrey Epstein.
It follows a turbulent few months for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex who had admitted they were struggling to cope with the pressures of royal life.
They are understood to have made the decision during their six-week sabbatical, spent on Vancouver Island in Canada, where they concluded that their current way of life was simply untenable.
Their future plans were outlined in detail on their Sussex Royal website, which revealed they had made the choice to “transition to a new working model”.
They said that by choosing financial autonomy, with no funding from the Sovereign Grant, they were allowing themselves to earn a professional income and “work externally” – something they were previously prohibited from doing.
The couple insisted they would continue their royal duties, supporting the Queen, the Commonwealth and their patronages. Their official travel, undertaken on behalf of the Queen, will be paid for by the Sovereign Grant.
However, they will continue to receive money from the Prince of Walesvia the Duchy of Cornwall, which largely funds their activities. He is understood to finance the duties of his two sons at a cost of £5m a year.
Their decision allows them to retain their royal titles and many of the trappings of royal life, whilst using their positions to carve out independent working lives.
It is likely they will spend a large proportion of their time in Canada, although any extended periods of time spent abroad will raise questions about their long-term future within the Royal Family.
The couple also announced that they will no longer participate in the traditional “royal rota” which allows mainstream media organisations to share access to official engagements.
Instead, their “revised media approach” suggests they will prioritise their own hand-picked outlets and individuals and provide access to those of their choice whilst releasing key photographs and information via their social media channels.
Their “personal message” released by Buckingham Palace at 6.30pm yesterday said: “After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen.
“It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment.”
It said they would balance their time between the UK and north America whilst “continuing to honour” their duty to the Queen, the Commonwealth and their patronages.
It went on: “This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity.
“We look forward to sharing the full details of this exciting next step in due course, as we continue to collaborate with Her Majesty The Queen, The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Cambridge and all relevant parties. Until then, please accept our deepest thanks for your continued support.”
A Buckingham Palace spokesperson said: “Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage.
“We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”
The dramatic move follows weeks of speculation about their future following their emotional television interviews during their tour of southern Africa, in which the Duke confirmed a rift with his brother, the Duke of Cambridge.
The Duke separately launched a scathing attack on the British tabloid press, accusing them of a “ruthless campaign” against his wife, adding: “I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”
The Sussexes had struggled to determine how they would fit into a new, slimmed down monarchy and felt they were not central to the future plan.
They were said to have felt sidelined and unsupported by senior members of the family, with no clear direction.
But their announcement was met with incredulity by royal watchers, who expressed shock and sadness over their decision.
Phil Dampier, the veteran royal reporter and author, said: “The Queen will be absolutely devastated by this. This is the last thing she needs. She is very fond of Harry but however you want to dress it up, this is them stepping away from royal duties and ducking out. This will bring back echoes of 1936 when another American divorcee wreaked havoc in the Royal Family. This must bring back terrible memories for Her Majesty.”
Penny Junor, the royal biographer, said: “Clearly if the pressures of being in the public eye are too much for them, then their well-being is more important than our appetite for seeing them on our television screens.
“I think most of the moves they have made so far have come as a surprise to the family and they don’t seem to have been taking advice from anybody I would venture to say terribly sensible over the last few months.
“They do seem to be ploughing a separate furrow for themselves.”