Prince Harry and Meghan Markle should return the £5m ($6.5m) British taxpayers paid for the cost of their wedding and private accommodation if they want a more “peaceful” life away from the royal family, say activists.
The 35-year-old prince announced this month he and Ms Markle had “no option” but to renounce some of their royal titles and public funding, if they were to live the peaceful life they sought.
“As agreed in this new arrangement, they understand that they are required to step back from royal duties, including official military appointments. They will no longer receive public funds for royal duties,” Buckingham Palace said in a statement. “The Sussexes will not use their HRH titles as they are no longer working members of the royal family.”
But campaigners pushing for the abolition of the monarchy and for Britain to have an elected head of state, say the couple should immediately pay back the money spent of their blockbuster 2018 wedding at Windsor Castle, and money spent to refurbish Frogmore Cottage, their residence on the Windsor estate.
“I think they made a pretty big mistake by making a lot of assumptions bout keeping titles and cottages and police protection. I think the public reaction has been pretty difficult for them,” Graham Smith, CEO of the group Republic, told The Independent.
“The bottom line is they need to decide whether they want to be pubic officials or private citizens, and they can’t have it both ways. They really ought to be abandoning their clams on any royal titles, and living their own lives at their own expense.”
He said it seemed clear the public would continue to meet some of their costs, while “cashing in on the official titles” given to them by the state.
“It’s less then two years that we spent millions on their wedding….We spend two-and-a-half million on that house, and given then extra status with these titles,” he added.
“Eighteen months later, they are running away and abandoning all responsibilities. I think we should be getting millions back, and they should stop spending our money as quickly as possible.”
For the the last few months, Prince Harry and Ms Markle, 38, have been staying at a large mansion on a secluded cove in North Saanich, on Canada’s Victoria Island. The couple say they intend to split their time between the UK and Canada, a member of the Commonwealth, and where Ms Markle lived for a number of years while filming the TV legal drama Suits.
But while they have been welcomed in North Saanich by local residents who have sought to help protect their privacy, the issue of who should pay for their security costs has sparked controversy.
A petition urging prime minister Justin Trudeau not to permit Canada to pay any expenses, has received more than 100,000 signatures.
Aaron Wudrick, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a campaign group “dedicated to lower taxes, less waste and accountable government”, said there was no personal animosity directed towards the royal couple. Rather, he said Canadians should not be paying the costs.
Many in the area agree with such a position.
“I think the point is, they are either private citizens or members of the royal family,” said Bruce Welsh, 70, a radio show host in Sidney. “If they are private citizens, they should not need security guards. Either way, Canada should not be paying.”
The couple have said they intend to pay for the costs of refurbishing their Windsor home. This week it was reported in the British media that an unnamed source said the couple also intended to meet any costs incurred by their stay in Vancouver Island.
In a statement on their website, signed as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, names they will apparently keep even after giving the HRH titles this spending, the couple wrote: “After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. 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.”
A separate statement issued by Buckingham Palace said the couple had “shared their wish to repay…expenditure for the refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage, which will remain their UK family home.”
A poll carried out by YouGov in 2018 suggested 70 per cent of Britons wanted to retain the royal family as head of state.
Yet Mr Smith, whose orgsanisation suggests the British royal family is undemocratic and costs the public £200m annually, said the Prince and Meghan’s announcement they were leaving the royal family underscored how unsustainable the institution was in a modern era.
“The Queen and Prince Charles appear comfortable with all the trappings and formality of royal duties, but it’s increasingly clear that the younger generations are not so keen” he said.
“This is going to be a very difficult decade for them. The Queen is 94 in April. They face the prospect of King Charles. I think a lot of people are going to be talking about an alternative, and we’re going to be spoiled for choice of who might be head of state.”