Harry and Meghan's decision to step back from the royal family is a 'gift' to republicans, says Australian historian

Ellen Manning

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s decision to ‘step back’ from the Royal Family is a ‘gift’ to Republicans, according to an Australian historian.

In the aftermath of the couple’s decision to step back from the monarchy, Benjamin Jones, a history lecturer at Central Queensland University, said the move was “significant” when it comes to support for Australia moving from a constitutional monarchy to a republic.

Writing in The Conversation, Mr Jones said the popularity of Princes William and Harry and their families was crucial to keeping a royal link between Australia and Britain.

Describing Harry as “one of the most recognisable royals” and “key to how the public, in Britain and Australia, sees the royal family”, he outlined how his military career, occasional gaffe and marriage to a popular actor had “endeared him to many”.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 07: Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex depart Canada House on January 07, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Harry and Meghan's decision to step back from the Royal Family has been described as a 'gift' to Australian republicans (Picture: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Describing the context of the difficulties faced by the Royal Family of late, including Prince Andrews relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, he said: “In this context, the decision of Harry and Meghan to step back and the perception that they, particularly Meghan, have been poorly treated by the royal family is a gift to republicans.”

His comments come as the Australian Republic Movement welcomed the couple’s decision, tweeting: “Harry and Meghan say they want to move on from the royals, and so does Australia, so today we offered them complimentary membership of the @AusRepublic Movement!

“Unfortunately, we haven’t heard back from them yet... (we won’t be holding our breath!).

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Angela Wilson, National Women’s Convenor of the movement, said: “Harry and Meghan are making a clear statement that the idea of a monarchy is old-fashioned.

“Harry and Meghan are going to become independent and stand on their own two feet and it's time Australia did the same.”

Mr Jones went on to outline Australia’s “complex” relationship with the monarchy, comparing Edward VIII’s abdication in 1936 with Harry and Meghan’s decision to step back from the monarchy.

“Despite the scandal, it was never seriously proposed then that Australia should cut its ties with the British monarchy,” he said.

“This is a key contextual difference to today’s situation.”

Edward VIII (1894-1972), Prince of Wales, in Hamilton during his visit to New Zealand, photograph from The Illustrated London News, vol 156, no 4236, June 26, 1920.
Mr Jones drew parallels with Edward VIII's abdication in 1936 (Picture: Getty)

He cited recent polls on Australia’s future, including a February 2018 poll by Research Now that found 52% of people supported a republic with 25% unsure and 22% supporting the monarchy.

A Newspoll in November 2018, just after the couple’s royal tour, found only 40% supported a republic with 48% against.

“This was the first time since 1999 that a poll found more people opposed the change,” he said.

He went on: “The monarchy has transformed itself over the last century. Issues like divorce and marrying an American (both forbidden for Edward VIII) have been gradually, perhaps grudgingly, accepted.”

Mr Jones pointed out that while in principle the issue of a republic is separate from the personalities of the royal family, but added: “Regardless, if Harry and Meghan are seen as separated from the monarchy, or worse yet, victims of it, its long term survival is threatened.”

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