Attacked on Harry and Meghan for urging Americans to vote
Prince Harry and his American wife, Meghan Markle, are facing criticism back in the U.K. for speaking out about the U.S. presidential election, but others say they’ve done nothing wrong.
The pair appeared in a new video, released on National Voter Registration Day, urging Americans to vote and to “reject hate speech, misinformation and online negativity.” They did not endorse a candidate.
Royal insiders, speaking anonymously to the Times in London, said the Duke and Duchess of Sussex may have “crossed a line” in U.K. protocol, which demands that members of the royal family stay neutral on politics.
“The political arena is very sensitive for all members of the royal family,” a former royal adviser told the Times. “You cannot have an apolitical institution, which is what a hereditary monarchy is, and have members of the royal family making even slightly political comments.”
Harry and Meghan appeared in a video message as part of Time magazine’s annual list of the world’s 100 most influential people. In the clip, seemingly shot at their Santa Barbara County home, the California-born duchess urged people to register to vote six weeks out from election day.
“Every four years we are told the same thing, that this is the most important election of our lifetime,” she said. “But this one is.”
While Harry and Meghan didn’t talk about candidates, their comments were interpreted by critics and others as backing former Vice President Joe Biden over incumbent Donald Trump, The Guardian reported. Before Meghan married into the royal family — before she even met Harry — the former TV actress was an outspoken critic of Trump, describing him in an interview as “misogynistic” and “divisive.”
Earlier this week, feminist activist Gloria Steinem also revealed Meghan had joined her in cold-calling Americans, urging them to vote, The Guardian reported. Steinem said the duchess is “so excited” to see a mixed-race vice-presidential candidate, Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris.
The former royal adviser told the Times that courtiers have to be concerned about the duke and duchess continuing to comment “on what could be the most contentious U.S. presidential election in living memory.”
The adviser, however, also said the queen and other members of the royal family may be more relaxed about Harry and Meghan speaking out now, after they gave up their roles as working members of the royal family, moved to the United States and set themselves up to become financially independent.
“They know that Meghan and Harry intend to be more public,” the adviser said.
Dickie Arbiter, Queen Elizabeth’s former press secretary, told the Times that “telling people to vote is not crossing the line.” He pointed out that Harry seems “to be very careful about with what he says. He is edging towards the line, but he has not crossed it.”
Arbiter also said that the queen addressed voters before the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. Like Harry and Meghan, she didn’t tell people how to vote, but said she hopes “people think very carefully about the future,” the BBC reported. At the time, royal officials insisted the queen’s comment on the referendum did not breach her constitutional duty to stay impartial on political issues.
It also appears that Meghan, as a U.S. citizen, may feel she has more leeway to speak out about her own country’s election. In the clip, she 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.”
Harry acknowledged his unique situation, saying, “This election I am not able to vote in the U.S. But many of you may not know that I haven’t been able to vote in the U.K. my entire life. As we approach this November, it’s vital that we reject hate speech, misinformation and online negativity.”
Harry elaborated about online negativity, saying, “When one person buys into negativity online, the effects are felt exponentially. It’s time to not only reflect, but act.”
A source close to Harry insisted to The Guardian that he was not referring to Trump or any other particular candidate with his reference to online negativity.
“The duke was talking about the tone of the debate in the run-up to an election, which is already quite febrile,” the source said. “He is building on a lot of stuff that he’s said before about online communities, how we engage with each other online, rather than specifically making any political points.”
Other royal observers were less generous in their views on whether Harry and Meghan should feel free to speak up. Royal biographer Robert Jobson told DailyMail.com that “it may be easier” for the couple to give up their royal titles altogether, given the “business and political agenda they appear to want to pursue.”
Jobson said Harry also should withdraw himself and his son, Archie, from the line of succession “to avoid further confusion.”
In a tweet and in a new column for the Daily Mail, Piers Morgan, a regular critic of Harry and Meghan, was more emphatic is saying Harry and Meghan have “crossed a massive line” by expressing themselves in “such a brazenly partisan manner.”
Morgan called on the queen to strip them of their royal titles. In addition to being the Duke of Sussex, Harry also is His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales, the Earl of Dumbarton and Baron Kilkeel, Morgan said. Meghan also remains a U.K. princess and Her Royal Highness.
“It’s frankly outrageous for two members of the royal family to abuse their positions and embarrass their country in such a shameless way,” Morgan said. “I would say exactly the same if they suggested a preference for Trump over Biden. … As I’ve said many times, Meghan and Harry can do and say what the hell they like so long as they’re not living off British taxpayer money or trading off their royal titles.”