How a ‘progressive’ new arrangement for the British royal family could work


JUDY WOODRUFF: The British monarchy is in
the midst of one of its most tumultuous times in recent memory. And, today, Queen Elizabeth said she would
be open to a new arrangement that would allow Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to pursue a
life outside their royal obligations. The statement followed an extraordinary meeting
today. Amna Nawaz fills in the picture. AMNA NAWAZ: Judy, the queen’s statement was
released after meeting with her heir, Prince Charles, and her grandsons, Princes William
and Harry. The statement read — quote — “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.” Joining us now from London to discuss this
and what’s ahead for Meghan and Prince Harry’s future is Robert Lacey. He is a historian
on the royal family and a consultant to the Netflix series “The Crown.” Robert Lacey, welcome to the “NewsHour.” I want to ask you if you can just start us
off with some context here. How big a deal is it that there are members of the royal
family who are intentionally, deliberately trying to take a step back from this institution? ROBERT LACEY, Historian: It is very significant. I think it’s a moment to rank with the (INAUDIBLE)
which was the fancy Latin name for all the disasters in the 1990s with the royal marriages
going wrong and the Windsor fire — the Windsor Castle burning, perhaps even the abdication
of 1936, because, actually, if it doesn’t work out, Prince Harry and Meghan have expressed
their intention of abdicating. And, in that sense, you could say, this meeting
and coming together and urgency was a result of a certain sort of blackmail. AMNA NAWAZ: Well, let’s talk a little bit
about what we do know, which is still very early in stages in terms of how this arrangement
will play out. What do you know, based on the people you
have talked to, about how this kind of arrangement might even work? ROBERT LACEY: Based on people I have talked
to, I think it’s got every chance of working. We have heard today confirmation that the
Sussexes will settle in Canada, at least for periods of transition, while they work out
how they are going to do the other thing that’s in the statement. They do not want to be reliant
on public funds. That is really a key over here. Taxpayers’
money is the refrain that gets repeated. Every British taxpayer pays about one pound 24 or
so, what’s that, $1.50, in their taxes goes every year to the royal family. That might
seem a small sum for all the fun and pleasure they give us. And it also, actually, is a small sum for
the billions, literally billions, they bring in, in tourist revenue. But this issue has got the country pretty
divided. AMNA NAWAZ: Well, let me ask you about the
way that Harry and Meghan presented this when they made the announcement. They said — and
I’m quoting from their original statement — they want to carve out a progressive new
role within this institution. So can the two co-exist, a progressive new
role within this institution that traces its roots to medieval times? ROBERT LACEY: The strength of the wrong family
is its ability to adapt to change, its realization that it’s got to represent the values of the
people that it’s supposed to represent. My prediction, based on what I have heard,
is that this tricky question of the money, so that the British taxpayer doesn’t feel
aggrieved, is going to be solved by some sort of huge American foundation. I will predict that, the creation of a big
Sussex royal foundation in America. It will fund all their good activities and their crusading
activities in North America and around the world. And what’s going — this is not the end of
the story. They’re now for the next few days going to haggle over the details. And the
sort of details they will be talking about will be, well, what are you going to crusade
for in your new foundation? Fine to get involved in community development, racial equality. Once you stray into women’s politics and that
sort of area, maybe that will be trespassing on the traditional and very important political
and social neutrality of the royal family. AMNA NAWAZ: Robert, I would be remiss if I
didn’t ask you about a lot of the reports and analysis we have seen in the days since
the announcement by Meghan and Harry that what was underlying their decision was also
the disproportionate criticism Meghan received, and a lot of it fueled by some very real racism
in Britain. What do you make of that? ROBERT LACEY: It’s quite true. There was terrible racism on the Internet,
in social media, but also the British tabloids subjected Meghan to the sort of hazing that
all royal women have to go through, cruelly, when they join the royal family. Kate went
through it, Harry’s — sorry — William’s wife. Camilla went through it. So that’s a real grievance, understandable.
From Harry’s point of view, there’s been this existence of a rift we have just discovered
that has been marring his relationship with his brother, William, for 18 months now. And so that’s why Harry himself wasn’t averse
to going, and undoubtedly supported his wife in her wish. AMNA NAWAZ: Is this a sense of how sort of
the modern monarchy can now work? Is this a model for the future? ROBERT LACEY: My view is that it is a very
positive model for the future. Just at the time we’re leaving Europe and
the government’s looking across the Atlantic, here is the royal family actually ahead of
them. And the British royal family has in a way, almost despite itself, reinvented itself
again. AMNA NAWAZ: That is Robert Lacey, historian
of the royal family, joining us tonight from London. Thank you very much. ROBERT LACEY: Thank you.

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