Britain’s Princes William and Harry on Monday put on a rare united front to dismiss a “false story” speculating about their relationship, as senior royals prepared to meet for talks about the younger brother’s future.
Harry and his wife Meghan caught the institution off guard last week when they announced their intention to step back from frontline royal duties.
The 35-year-old former army officer has previously all but confirmed a rift with his older brother, prompting speculation as to the cause and that it may have influenced his decision to quit.
On Monday, William and Harry, also known by their formal titles the Duke of Cambridge and Duke of Sussex, issued a rare joint statement to condemn one report, without specifying the publication.
“Despite clear denials, a false story ran in a UK newspaper today speculating about the relationship between The Duke of Sussex and The Duke of Cambridge,” it said. “For brothers who care so deeply about the issues surrounding mental health, the use of inflammatory language in this way is offensive and potentially harmful.”
The Times cited an unnamed “insider” as saying Harry and Meghan felt they had been “pushed away by what they saw as a bullying attitude from the Duke of Cambridge”. But it also cautioned: “These claims have been strongly contested by sources close to the Cambridges, as well as some close to Prince Harry.”
Queen Elizabeth is set to hold face-to-face talks with Harry for the first time since he and his wife made the announcement last Wednesday without telling her or other senior royals first.
The meeting at the monarch’s private Sandringham estate in eastern England reflects the queen’s desire to contain the fallout from Harry and Meghan’s decision to “step back” as senior royals, work to become financially independent and split their time between Britain and North America.
The meeting will also include Harry’s father Prince Charles and Prince William. It comes after days of intense news coverage, in which supporters of the royal family’s feuding factions used the British media to paint conflicting pictures of who was to blame for the rift.
William is expected to travel to Sandringham from London and Harry from his home in Windsor, west of the British capital. Charles has flown back from the Gulf nation of Oman, where he attended a condolence ceremony Sunday following the death of Sultan Qaboos bin Said.
Meghan, who is in Canada with the couple’s baby son Archie, is likely to join the meeting by phone.
Buckingham Palace said “a range of possibilities” would be discussed, but the queen was determined to resolve the situation within “days, not weeks”. The goal was to agree on next steps at Monday’s gathering, which follows days of talks among royal courtiers and officials from the UK and Canada.
Buckingham Palace stressed, however, that “any decision will take time to be implemented”.
One of the more fraught questions that needs to be worked out is precisely what it means for a royal to be financially independent and what activities can be undertaken to make money. Other royals who have ventured into the world of commerce have found it complicated.
Prince Andrew, for example, has faced heated questions about his relationship with the late convicted sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein. He has relinquished royal duties and patronages after being accused by a woman who says she was an Epstein trafficking victim who slept with the prince.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex also face questions on paying for taxpayer-funded security. Home Secretary Priti Patel refused to comment, but said safety was a priority.
“I’m not going to provide any detailed information on the security arrangements for either them or any members of the royal family or for any protected individuals – that’s thoroughly inappropriate for me to do so,” she told the BBC. “At this moment in time, right now, the royal family themselves need some time and space for them to work through the current issues that they’re dealing with.”
Senior royals were said to be hurt by the announcement, while Harry and Meghan’s friends have told Britain’s media that the couple were being pushed aside because of the desire of the Windsors to concentrate on the core of the royal family and focus on those in the line of succession – Prince Charles, William and William’s son George.
Tom Bradby, a TV journalist who is close to Harry and Meghan, warned in The Sunday Times that the royal family badly needed a peace deal to prevent “a protracted war” that could damage the monarchy.
With much at stake, the talks could be a step toward a changed monarchy.
“This is a seismic moment in royal history and British society,” Kate Williams, a historian at the University of Reading, wrote in The Observer. “It tells historians of the future much about our society, its self-perceptions, prejudices and fears. And most of all, it should mark our realisation – as we didn’t learn after [the late Princess] Diana – that those who marry into the royal family are not our dolls to attack and throw around as we please.”