Royal Family's 'botched' response to Harry and Meghan bombshell has echoes of Prince Andrew fallout

Will Taylor
News Reporter
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle; The Queen with Prince Andrew. (Getty)

Buckingham Palace’s response to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s decision to quit as senior royals has come under fire.

On Wednesday night, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex released a bombshell statement saying they plan to “step back” as senior royals and divide their time between the UK and North America.

In a highly unusual move, it is understood the Sussexes did not consult either the Queen or the Prince of Wales about the contents of the announcement until minutes before they made it.

The response from the Palace was just as unusual. Normally renowned for being bland, the statement betrayed a sense of frustration with the young couple, with a spokesperson saying discussions were “at an early stage” and that “these are complicated issues that will take time to work through”.

It is the second major story in recent months that appears to have caught the Palace unprepared for the fallout.

It “botched” its response to liked it did with Prince Andrew, a former royal editor at the Sun has said.

Duncan Larcombe, who now commentates on the royals and covered them for the Sun for more than a decade, said the royals’ attitude to communication, combined with poor advice from staff, led to the disastrous communication in the Duke of York scandal last year and the problems appear to have been repeated yesterday.

The Palace put out a brief statement after the Sussexes made their announcement outlining their wish to become financially independent yesterday.

“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 statement read.

The Sun’s former royal editor, Duncan Larcombe, has been critical of the way the Royal Family communicates in testing times like this, including the handling of allegations against Prince Andrew last year.

“What we saw last night form the palace, their reaction to Harry’s bombshell, I’d suggest was very much a holding statement to buy them some time,” he told Yahoo News UK.

“What that tells me is they didn’t have the foggiest idea it was coming, so that’s full on panic mode, what do we do, we’ll say discussions are ongoing, buy ourselves a bit of time, work out what the hell is actually going on.

Buckingham Palace was "blindsided" by the Sussexes' announcement, one commentator said. (PA Images)

“They had to say something because one of the star members of the Royal Family had effectively resigned.”

Both the Sussexes and the Palace have been criticised for how they communicated the news.

Mr Larcombe, who covered the royals for years, laid the blame at the feet of both the royals and their advisors.

“I tend to work on the basis that if they can make a mess of it, they generally do,” he said.

“For years the Royal Family have employed civil servants with very little understanding of how the media works and people who are often, not always, but often too frightened to speak up and give good considered professional advice for fear of angering one of the royals and losing their job, and that’s what happened with Prince Andrew.

“The royals always think they know best so it makes it very difficult to advise them.”

Prince Andrew has denied the allegations against him and maintains his innocence.

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Popular culture expert Nick Ede described the Sussexes’ statement as “very cold” for not taking the other members of the family, including the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William, into sufficient account.

The statement did include reference to wanting to support the monarchy.

Mr Ede said while the Palace’s response to the Prince Andrew allegations was mired in legal issues, which affected how it could communicate, its message about the Sussexes appeared as if there had been “no consultation” between branches of the family.

“When you look at the statement that came from the palace saying this is a very comprehensive issue and we are working on it, it’s totally different from what the Sussexes say and it’s baffling that nobody has communicated whatsoever with each other.”

The Sussexes' statement was at odds with the palace's, a commentator has said. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/Pool Photo via AP, file)

He added that it was a “really calculated move by the two of them and I think that’s what’s going to cause a big rift within the families”.

“I think the palace did botch their response because they were totally blindsided, they can’t sit there and admit ‘we knew nothing about this’.”

The palace’s approach was “panicked, knee-jerked and their statement was misjudged”, Mr Ede said, which “highlighted the divide between the families”.

“They didn’t handle the Andrew thing well and they’re not handling this well.

“I think things like this are really difficult, none of us know the ins and outs... you would hope you would get all the press officers and teams together to discuss this and work out a way of formalising it so you wouldn’t get these splashes in the tabloids, and Piers Morgan going off on one, and really manage it in a strong, cohesive way. That’s what my advice would be.

“I think it highlights the total lack of communication in the Royal Family.”

He praised the Sussexes’ progressiveness and described them as “remarkable” but said the Royal Family’s protocols had to be adhered to.

Buckingham Palace was contacted for comment.