Why are Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepping back as senior royals?

Rebecca Taylor
Royal Correspondent

From 1 April 2020, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle will no longer be senior members of the Royal Family.

It means they will not receive any money from the Sovereign Grant - and will not carry out any engagements on behalf the Queen.

The news that they wanted to leave the role behind came as a huge shock. The couple spent Christmas and an extended break in Canada, and came back in January, when they announced they did not want to be senior royals any more.

Yahoo UK looks at the key factors in the decision to step back - and how we got here.

Read more: 'You may not see us here': Harry and Meghan share final Instagram post from royal account

The press

Harry has spoken on a number of occasions about press intrusion and said it is something he has struggled with as a member of the Royal Family.

Speaking to Tom Bradby during the filming of a documentary of their tour in South Africa, he said: “I think being part of this family, in this role, in this job, every single time I see a camera, every single time I hear a click, every single time I see a flash it takes me straight back so in that respect it's the worst reminder of her life as opposed to the best.”

Harry and Meghan took on some final duties in the UK in March. (Getty Images)

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The prince has always criticised the press for the role they played in the death of his mother. Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 after being hounded by paparazzi.

When he started dating Meghan, he issued a powerful statement which spoke about “racist undertones” in reporting of her, and called for “those in the press who have been driving this story can pause and reflect before any further damage is done”.

He also knew that press attention had contributed to the end of previous relationships - with Chelsy Davy and Cressida Bonas.

Together, Harry and Meghan have sought to establish a bit more control around how they are reported on. They organised a photocall when their son Archie was born. While Meghan was in the UK she chose one photographer to accompany her on a number of her private engagements.

In a statement on their website, they said the move to be private individuals will remove “the supposed ‘public interest’ justification for media intrusion into their lives”.

Harry and Meghan at the WellChild awards in October 2019. (Getty Images)

They also expressed a wish for the way they are covered to change, saying they want to “engage with grassroots media organisations and young, up-and-coming journalists” and “no longer participate in the Royal Rota system”.

Harry’s other life

Prince Harry has never made a secret of how much he loved being in the military. He talked about preferring his military title of Captain Wales to his royal titles, and said on patrol bases he could be “one of the guys”.

Read more: Meghan Markle's six most significant royal moments in 600 days

His friend Dean Stott, told This Morning tour in Afghanistan was the only place he could be himself.

Harry has admitted in the past that he didn't always want to stay in the royal family.

"There was a time I felt I wanted out," he told the Mail on Sunday.

"But then I decided to stay in [The Firm] and work out a role for myself."

Harry will likely keep working with the military in the future. (Getty Images)

Military affiliations have been a recurring theme for Prince Harry too. He launched the Invictus Games, a sporting event for disabled and injured former servicemen, and continues to play a major role in the organisation.

It’s likely he will continue his work with the military after he leaves the Royal Family.

Making their own money

In their statement in January, Harry and Meghan spoke about wanting to earn their own money.

As senior royals, they received 5% of their money from the Sovereign Grant - the money paid by the taxpayer to the Royal Family to fund their duties, their travel and other expenses.

Read more: Meghan leaving the Royal Family was the British people's fault, documentary claims

The couple had wanted to come to an arrangement which would allow them to continue to represent the Queen but earn their own money. However no such deal could be reached with the Royal Family.

The statement said: “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.”

The phrase financially independent seems to be a key figure for why this happened - they wanted to go to work and earn money like others can.

While Harry would always have made his money by working for his grandmother, Meghan would have been much more used to going to work and earning her monthly paycheque.

How did we get here?

In November 2019, after a successful tour in South Africa and the announcement they would be suing the Mail on Sunday, the couple took Archie to Canada for an extended break, missing Christmas at Sandringham.

In January 2020 they came back to thank the officials at Canada House in London for their time there.

But the visit to the UK turned out to be brief, especially for Meghan. It emerged they had left Archie in Canada, and she returned swiftly after they made a statement that they wanted to step back as senior royals.

Harry and Meghan popped back to say thank you for their stay. (Getty Images)

They said they had come to the decision after “many months of reflection and internal discussions”.

Buckingham Palace warns there are “complicated issues that will take time to work through”.

The Queen directed her staff to find solutions quickly, and a few days later summons Harry alongside Prince William and Prince Charles, for discussions. This became known as the Sandringham Summit.

While in Canada, Meghan makes some secret visits to local charities and organisations, while Harry continues with official engagements.

Read more: Lecturer who clashed with Laurence Fox over Meghan says 'I've had to grow a pair'

The Queen expresses regret at their decision, but they eventually come to an arrangement. It’s dubbed a “hard Megxit” and is not what the couple wanted. They will not use their HRH styling, they will not be able to represent the Queen, and Harry will lose his honorary military titles.

The next day, Harry tells supporters at a charity dinner there was “no other option”. Soon after, he jets back to Canada.

Over the next month, they release some videos and photos of past projects on social media, but more information about their future leaks out. They discover they won’t be able to use the word royal in any of their branding in the UK, and reluctantly agree not to use it worldwide.

Problems with their future security emerge too, with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police refusing to cover their side of the costs.

The home in Canada where Prince Harry and wife Meghan lived. (Getty Images)

Read more: 'Thank you, Meghan': Charity pays tribute to Duchess of Sussex for new film

In early March, they perform their farewell tour - a series of engagements around Britain which marks the end of their time as senior royals.

As they edge closer to their final day, it emerges they have left Canada and will set up home in Los Angeles, having left before the border between the two countries closed to tackle the spread of coronavirus.

But the plan to reveal their new work has been delayed. However, they have revealed that Harry’s project Travalyst will be based in the UK, and Disney revealed Meghan was the narrator of honour on their documentary Elephant.

The royals want to retain a global focus on dealing with coronavirus and have decided to concentrate on their family and the role they can play to help in the pandemic.