Britian's Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle have stunned the nation by announcing plans to step back as senior royals to divide time between the United Kingdom and the United States, a move being viewed as a split within the UK's royal household.
In an extraordinary statement released on Wednesday night, the couple announced plans to step back from their current roles and split their time between the UK and North America with their eight-month-old son, Archie.
Buckingham Palace described the process as "complicated" as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex revealed their intention after months of "reflection" to become financially independent and set up their own charitable entity as they carve out a new role for themselves in the New Year.
"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," their statement notes.
It adds: "We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honour our duty to the Queen, the Commonwealth and our patronages.
"This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity.”
As the couple unveiled their “exciting next step”, it seemed that the other royals, including Harry's 93-year-old grandmother Queen Elizabeth II, were taken by surprise.
Their announcement, branded online as 'Megxit', has been described as "personal" and had not been approved by the palace.
"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,” a Buckingham Palace statement noted in response.
According to the BBC, the palace was “blindsided” by the announcement as the couple did not consult any senior royal before issuing the unprecedented statement.
Harry, 35, is sixth in line to the British throne, a position he will retain within the line of succession.
He married 38-year-old former American actress Meghan Markle in May 2018 and the couple had son Archie in May last year.
They had a particularly difficult year in 2019 when they spoke out about the media glare on their role in a television documentary and decided to take legal action against British tabloids over breach of privacy.
Also, Duke and Duchess of Sussexes' absence from Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton's last two birthdays has stoked rumours of a royal rift between Prince William and Harry, the Daily Express reported.
The latest move was finalised during a six-week sabbatical by the royal couple on Vancouver Island in Canada over Christmas.
Their future plans are roughly outlined on their Sussex Royal website, where it says they will be making a “transition to a new working model” and not be dependent on the Sovereign Grant of UK taxpayer funding to the royal family.
Harry has some personal wealth through the money left to him by his late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, but he is supported by money from his father Prince Charles as well as the public funding.
Under current rules, the pair are "prohibited from earning income in any form", but in their new stepped back roles they would be free to follow other title-holding royals in having full-time jobs.
The costs of their official overseas visits will continue to be funded by the Sovereign Grant and contributions from the host country as “appropriate”.
Harry and Meghan are classified as "internationally protected people", which means they must have armed security provided by Scotland Yard and they have indicated plans to hold on to Frogmore Cottage in Windsor as their family home in the UK.
The couple are expected to continue their charitable work through the launch of their new Sussex Royal Foundation, which was set up after they separated from Prince William and wife Kate Middleton's foundation last year.
The new charity is expected to be global, linked to Africa and the US, rather than with a UK focus -- and will have a commitment to female empowerment in line with Meghan's work before marriage.
"The Duke and Duchess of Sussex take great pride in their work and are committed to continuing their charitable endeavours as well as establishing new ones,” notes a statement on the official Duke and Duchess of Sussex website.
The site also highlighted the couple's disdain for the British mainstream media, which has been tracking Meghan's strained relationship with her estranged father Thomas Markle, as their statement indicated plans to favour “grassroots media organisations” and their own social media accounts.
The couple are formally withdrawing from the royal rota, or the palace system that allows papers to share joint coverage of royal events, blaming “frequent misreporting” and say their new strategy would enable them to share more with the public directly.
But royal historian Prof Kate Williams said it will be "difficult" for Harry and Meghan to lead "normal" lives, as media interest in them will increase after their "unprecedented" move.
"Harry and Meghan are global celebrities. Meghan was already famous (due to her former acting career)" as was Harry, who will become even "more significant" when his father -- and later his brother -- becomes king," William told the BBC.