The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have made their most outspoken public statement yet since resigning as senior members of the royal family, and they have ruffled some feathers in the process.
The pair appeared in a video to celebrate Time’s 100 Most Influential People list for 2020, a list they made back in 2018 when they tied the knot.
In the video shot in the garden of their $32 million Californian home, the pair waded into political territory, urging US citizens to register to vote as the video went live on “national voter registration day”.
Though the pair didn’t name a candidate they backed, online users argued their status as former royals in the UK means they should not weigh into the election in any capacity, and that some of the statements seemed to swing towards the Democrats.
As a member of the royal family, Harry has never voted in the UK as royals are required to remain politically neutral. He is not a citizen of the US and, therefore, won’t be casting a vote this election either.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex: "Congratulations to this year's transformative leaders and change makers. You work tirelessly to create a better world, a better global community for all of us" #TIME100 https://t.co/3aojLBhOVu pic.twitter.com/aqOkVUNFBX— TIME (@TIME) September 23, 2020
“This election, I’m not going to be able to vote in the US, and many of you may not know that I haven’t been able to vote in the UK my entire life,” he explained in the video.
The pair addressed topics including hate speech and online bullying which Harry called viewers to ‘act’ on.
During the address, the Duke urged Americans to “reject hate speech” as the election approaches.
“As we approach this November, it’s vital we reject hate speech, misinformation and online negativity,” Harry said.
Meghan kept her message more neutral, simply calling the viewers to register and cast their votes. She will become the first member of the British royal family to publically vote in another election.
“Every four years we are told the same thing, that this is the most important election of our lifetime. But this one is,” the Duchess said.
“When we vote our values are put into action and our voices are heard. Your voice is a reminder that you matter, because you do and you deserve to be heard.”
The message did not go over smoothly with the public, however, many arguing it was far too political for former state representatives, some even arguing it was tantamount to interference from a foreign power.
Meghan was an outspoken critic of Donald Trump during the 2016 election before marrying into the royal family, and last month publically expressed her excitement at seeing Kamala Harris, a fellow woman of colour, on the Democratic ticket.
Critics slam ‘highly inappropriate’ political message
Predictably, Piers Morgan was one of those who saw a clear political message in the video, arguing it was ‘unacceptable behaviour’.
“Prince Harry poking his woke nose into the US election & effectively telling Americans to vote against President Trump is completely unacceptable behaviour for a member of the Royal Family,” he wrote in a statement online.
Others commenting on Times’ video seemed to agree.
“Using their British nobility titles to urge Americans to vote...” one person reflected. “Hmm I forsee an issue with this.”
“This is highly inappropriate,” another wrote.
“Seems inappropriate and condescending,” another agreed.
Others called on them to give up their titles if they wanted to discuss politics publically.
“I may be wrong but I thought royal protocol meant not speaking publicly about politics,” one Twitter user wrote. “If true then Harry and Meghan may decide to relinquish their titles so as to carry on in this vein. Criticism would then have no basis.”
Buckingham palace told the Times that the comments were not in breach of royal protocol because they were made in a ‘personal capacity’.
“The Duke is not a working member of the Royal Family and any comments he makes are made in a personal capacity,” the Palace said.
Supporters praise the pair as ‘agents of positive change’
It wasn’t all negative reactions however, the couple discussed the need for more compassionate interaction online, a message which garnered them far more praise.
“What we’re exposed to online seeps into how we engage with each other offline. It can train us to be kind, or it can train us to be cruel,” Meghan said.
“When the bad outweighs the good, for many, whether we realise it or not, it erodes our ability to have compassion and our ability to put ourselves into someone else’s shoes,” Harry continued.
“Because when one person buys into negativity online, the effects are felt exponentially. It’s time to not only reflect but act.”
Fans of the couple were thrilled with the message that they called ‘inspiring’, and argued that urging users to vote was a neutral, and positive message.
“Always with a positive, can-do message,” one woman wrote. “The UK’s loss is our gain!”
“Well said Harry and Meghan,” another wrote.
“The Duke and Duchess are incredible,” a third agreed.
“Such a beautiful couple, always speaking about positive things, congratulation on your being recognized as agents of positive change!!!” another wrote.