Friday 17 January 2020

Queen orders that row over Harry and Meghan's future be solved in 72 hours

Happier times: Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle pose at Kensington Palace in London in 2017 after they announced they had gotten engaged. Photo: AFP via Getty Images
Happier times: Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle pose at Kensington Palace in London in 2017 after they announced they had gotten engaged. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

Camilla Tominey and Victoria Ward

Queen Elizabeth has ordered that the row over the future roles of Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle be resolved within the next 72 hours amid speculation that Harry could leave Britain as early as next week.

The 93-year-old monarch, who was pictured yesterday for the first time since the couple declared their intention to split from the British royal family, told courtiers to solve the dispute by Tuesday, ahead of Harry's first public appearance since his announcement later next week.

The queen has insisted the crisis lasts no longer than the six days that elapsed between Prince Andrew's recent disastrous 'Newsnight' interview about his connections to convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein and his stepping back from royal duties.

The queen also told courtiers to "turn a crisis into an opportunity" by producing a blueprint not only for her grandson and his wife, but future royal generations.

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But with Meghan already back in Canada, a source close to Harry questioned whether the deadline could be met.

Insisting the couple, who have the titles Duke and Duchess of Sussex, "were not going to quickly sign off their future and their lives", the royal insider cast doubt over whether a solution could be found in the "next few days".

Harry (35) has still not held meetings with his grandmother, father Prince Charles or brother Prince William, although it is understood further telephone conversations between them would take place over the weekend as their staffs continued to work on a compromise.

The queen is currently in Norfolk, Charles is in Scotland, William is in London and Harry is in Windsor, apart from his wife and seven-month-old son Archie, who are believed to be staying on Vancouver Island. It is not known when Meghan will return to Britain.

Harry is expected to honour an official engagement at Buckingham Palace next Thursday and could leave soon afterwards, although an aide stressed he would not fly to Canada until "a satisfactory deal was done".

No further engagements have so far been scheduled for the couple in Britain, meaning there is no date by which they must return to the country.

Aides are trying to find "workable solutions" to the so-called "abdication" crisis after the Sussexes' announcement on Wednesday that they had decided to step back as "senior" members of the royal family and planned to spend more time in North America.

A source close to the negotiations said the queen had delivered an ultimatum in an attempt to bring the saga to a swift conclusion.

"Let no one be under any illusions, the queen is calling the shots on this," the source said. "The queen is the one making the decisions, aided by the Prince of Wales (Charles) and the Duke of Cambridge (William) who have been instructed to enact what she wants to happen.

"The queen's hand remains firmly on the tiller and the three households are working well together to try to find a solution. They are united around a common goal, as they were when they had to deal with the Duke of York (Andrew). The royal family is not renowned for being fleet of foot but the most recent crisis, involving the duke, went from flash to bang in six days. Six days from the 'Newsnight' interview to him stepping back.

"Within 24 hours of the statement being issued on Wednesday night, the queen had convened a working group and she wants a solution in a similar time frame - less than a week.

"The talks are progressing well but there's a lot to be worked through. The bigger the issue gets, the calmer it gets. There's a good degree of pragmatism. By this time next week, this will all be resolved.

"But in getting this right, you are not only solving a conundrum for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex but others further down the line of succession for years to come, including Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis."

Pointing out that other members of the royal family not directly in the line of succession had struggled to balance careers with official duties, the source added: "If you look back in history it hasn't gone particularly well. Aides have been told to make an opportunity out of crisis."

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