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Queen Elizabeth 'blindsided' by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's announcement, analyst says

Royal analyst Victoria Arbiter said the royal couple's intention to become "financially independent" is also fraught with issues.
/ Source: TODAY

It wasn't just the public who were stunned by the announcement Wednesday from Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, that they were going to take a "step back" from being senior British royals.

It was also news to Queen Elizabeth II, royal analyst Victoria Arbiter said on TODAY Thursday.

She was asked by Savannah Guthrie if the queen was "blindsided" by Wednesday's announcement, which also included the royal couple rolling out a slick new website outlining their vision for the future.

"I think she was,'' Arbiter said. "When they got back (from Christmas in Canada), they did have a discussion with the queen, Prince Charles, Prince William, saying, 'Look, we want to do something different here,' but I don't think any of this information certainly that's been listed on their website was shared with the senior members of the royal family, and that's where they were blindsided.

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"What makes it incredibly difficult now is that all of these details have to be ironed out on the public platform."

The queen issued a statement through Buckingham Palace on Wednesday in response to the announcement.

"Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage,'' the statement read. "We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through."

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex also noted in their announcement that they are seeking to become "financially independent." The British royal family has wealth from lands and investments but is subsidized by British taxpayers through a sovereign grant issued by the treasury that totaled $104 million in 2019.

By expressing the desire to become financially independent, Harry and Meghan have raised questions of whether they will be accused of double-dipping by enjoying the royal family's wealth as well as any money they rake in themselves. There also is the possibility that they lose their senior royal status altogether.

"This is where it gets very complicated because companies are going to be lining up to throw money at them,'' Arbiter said. "In North America, the speaker circuit could be incredibly lucrative, but in maintaining their HRH status, trying to maintain a foot in the royal camp, they're going to be accusations of them cashing in on their royal status, commercializing the royal family.

"Civilian life outside of royal life just doesn't work in harmony, so I think that's an optimistic idea."

There's also the question of whether British taxpayers will have to pick up the tab for their security detail if they're living much of the time in North America and traveling frequently.

"At the moment, according to their website, which reads something like a wish list of what Harry and Meghan are expecting to play out here, they're saying they're going to maintain their royal protection,'' Arbiter said.

"But that gets incredibly difficult because royal protection officers, they do two-week runs with Harry and Meghan, they're flying back and forth, they need to fed, they need to be paid, housed."

There's also the question of whether the queen will allow them to make a break at all. Arbiter said the government of their new North American home, most likely Canada, will have to be consulted along with Prince Charles, Prince William, the British government and more officials.

"That's why I think the royal family was so blindsided because all of this should've been done before any kind of statement,'' Arbiter said.