Tuesday, January 14, 2020
By Peter Young
Last week’s bombshell announcement by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex that they had decided to step down as full-time senior royals came suddenly and as a surprise to most people. Buckingham Palace insiders are apparently still reeling from the news despite some saying the signs of Harry and Meghan’s discontent with their existing roles as members of the Royal Family had become increasingly evident, though not to the general public.
It is now being suggested their new stance was the result of a growing disenchantment as Meghan was complaining of being under the claimed unbearable pressure of life in the limelight and Harry was saying publicly he was travelling on a different path from his brother who one day would be king.
All this is now dominating the British press with hard-hitting reporting of a rapidly developing crisis for Her Majesty The Queen and the Royal Family. It is also receiving wide coverage in other countries, particularly in the Commonwealth. So the details are already well known and there is little for me to add in this column. However, it is such a serious issue with potentially wide ranging effects on the monarchy that I should like to offer my own take on the matter.
For the sake of clarity, the Duke and Duchess have declared they want to balance their time between Britain and North America while continuing to support The Queen. They want to be financially independent and take on a new “progressive role” as well as launch a charitable entity in their own name with a new website. Reportedly, they defied The Queen by going ahead with the public notification despite being urged by her and other members of the Royal Family to talk the matter through first. She is said to be hurt and disappointed that she was not told of the impending announcement in advance. The Prince of Wales and William are reportedly incandescent with rage while other family members have also reacted furiously.
According to reports, this sudden reckless and radical move appears not to have been thought through properly and has not been part of a balanced and careful strategy as Harry effectively moves down the line of succession in what Prince Charles sees as a slimmed-down monarchy. It could hardly come at a worse time, with the royals still dealing with the Prince Andrew debacle, including his enforced banishment from public life, and the 98-year-old Duke of Edinburgh’s recent stay in hospital. The initial Buckingham Palace reaction was a terse statement that these were complicated matters that needed to be worked through carefully.
The Queen quickly instructed aides to come up with proposals for a workable solution to the crisis in the form of a compromise to put to the unhappy couple. This was quickly followed by the announcement of a meeting between her, the Prince of Wales and William and Harry – with Meghan participating from Canada by telephone via a conference call – at her winter residence, Sandringham, yesterday.
Hours after the meeting The Queen issued a statement saying she was deeply disappointed with Harry and Meghan for wanting to step back from royal duties. She expressed her sincere regret but conceded there would now be a ‘transition period’ where the Duke and Duchess would wind down their royal duties allowing them to spend more time in Canada.
It is clear Her Majesty, who is not given to premature or rash decisions, was looking for some sort of agreement about the future to be reached without delay as she did not want the matter to fester.
In addition to visa, tax and residency issues, Harry and Meghan will now have to determine how they plan to become financially independent – for example, what money they will be allowed from the public purse and what limits there will be on using their royal status for commercial gain. Then, of course, one of the most complicated issues will be security. Even though they are stepping down as senior royals the need to protect them as a high profile couple will remain – specifically, what form it should take, who will provide it and who will pay for it?
Without attempting to analyse their motives further, the sad fact is that Harry, who used to be one of the best-loved royals after The Queen herself, is now turning his back on his own family, including his brother with whom he was said to have had a special bond following the premature loss of their mother.
In a mix of anger, frustration and sorrow, it seems the public are already turning on them both for what has been described as their shoddy and disrespectful treatment of Harry’s much-loved grandmother and for his refusal to live up to his royal obligations. One well-wisher outside the church near Sandringham which The Queen attends was reported to have said on Sunday “if they want to go, they don’t get anything – no money, no titles and, if they need security, they should pay for it themselves”.
Judging from reactions in the UK press and from early polls, that attitude seems to sum up the public mood at the moment. What a waste it seems to be of the extraordinary goodwill at the time of the 2018 wedding and how quickly the shine has worn off. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex had an amazing chance to play a key role in the Royal Family but they have rejected it.
Some are now saying that the Duke himself is on a path to self-destruction. They are comparing him to Edward VIII who put love before duty and thought exile with his American divorcee wife would bring him happiness. But, most serious of all, perhaps, is that the couple have caused unnecessary distress to The Queen, and probably that will not be easily forgotten or forgiven.
Johnson has the strength to get Brexit finished
Since Britain’s referendum in 2016 about its European Union membership when 52 percent of voters opted to leave, there has been widespread interest in the nation’s departure from the bloc and endless media coverage of the incessant wrangling about the process to be followed. This has given rise to “Brexit-fatigue”. But recently there has been a lull in news about developments so that people are now beginning to ask what is happening.
The answer is that there has just been a watershed moment in that the UK Parliament last week passed the government’s latest Withdrawal Bill by a substantial majority that reflected the Tories’ success in last month’s general election.
This was an amended version of former Prime Minister Theresa May’s various proposed agreements that Parliament rejected and covers important issues such as EU citizens’ rights and so-called divorce payments within a financial settlement together with special customs arrangements for Northern Ireland. It makes clear that the UK is leaving the EU’s institutions like the single market and the customs union and it provides for a transition period until the end of December, 2020 in order to agree trade terms between the UK and the remaining 27 EU member states – and during that period the UK will continue to pay its contribution to the EU budget and remain bound by most of its rules.
The Bill is now before the House of Lords for further scrutiny. The government does not have a majority in the upper house which may try to delay the legislation by attaching amendments to it; but, to all intents and purposes, it will become law and it paves the way for the UK formally to leave the EU on January 31 with a deal that gives greater certainty to business and ensures that the nation regains control of its borders, laws, money and trade policy.
So the next step is to reset the UK’s relations with its closest trading partner. This means starting trade negotiations immediately in what will be a tight timeframe while Prime Minister Boris Johnson, pictured, has insisted the transition period will not be extended. Furthermore, amid reports that he may be invited to address both Houses of Congress during a visit to Washington in February, there are real hopes that Britain will be able to negotiate in the coming months what could be an interim trade deal with the USA, with President Trump said to be “hawkish” about the possibility of achieving this before the US presidential election in November. Such a deal would strengthen Mr Johnson’s hand in negotiations with Brussels.
In securing an exit from the EU on January 31 with a deal, the new Conservative government has delivered on the overwhelming mandate of the British people in December’s election who sent a clear message that they wanted Brexit resolved. Who can say what lies ahead in trade talks with Brussels? It is almost certain they will be difficult and hard-fought, with EU negotiators being unhelpful, if not intransigent, as a way of sending a warning to other member states who may be thinking of following Britain in its departure from the bloc. But, with a British Prime Minister now enjoying a comfortable parliamentary majority, there is a different and more positive mood in London – and the public appears to be increasingly confident that a strong leader will see the job through.
Sir Brian strikes just the right note
I was delighted to have been invited to attend the ceremonies last week to mark the Opening of the 2020 Legal Year – a service at Christ Church Cathedral followed by an inspection of a Guard of Honour and a special sitting of the Supreme Court, rounded off by a reception for justices, magistrates, members of the Bar Association and others.
At the Supreme Court sitting, packed to the rafters with lawyers of all ages and experience, I was struck as a visitor by the formality, order and solemnity of the occasion. I found it particularly interesting to listen to an impressive address by the new Chief Justice, Sir Brian Moree, pictured, in which he described in detail his plans for the reform and modernisation of the administration of justice throughout the land.
He gave a comprehensive account of these, and it seemed to me the amount of detail must surely have signalled to everybody that, despite opposition from those taking entrenched positions in resisting change, they were really going to happen – indeed, the Registrar in his own report in the Annual Judicial Report wrote that such reform was to be a hallmark of the Chief Justice’s tenure.
Another theme of Sir Brian’s address was the paramount importance of an independent and impartial judiciary in a democratic and free society. He stressed that, in discharging their judicial functions, the courts must be completely independent of all other branches of government, and the judiciary also needed its own resources to improve the administration and delivery of justice to the Bahamian people – not least a new court complex. As an observer with limited knowledge of the workings of the judiciary in The Bahamas, it was fascinating to learn about these plans for change, reform and modernisation.
I imagine it will not be easy for the Chief Justice to see his innovative ideas put into practice - and no doubt he will seek to build momentum through gathering public support as appropriate - but it must be both comforting and encouraging for all Bahamians to know the nation’s judiciary is in such capable, proficient and experienced hands.