Whatever you think of the Sussex saga, it’s clear that Buckingham Palace are waking up to more uncomfortable reading this morning. The coverage of the allegations made by the Sussexes is not going to die down anytime soon and the public is now poised to see how the Palace reacts. While the Duke and Duchess of Sussex did everything in their power to twist the knife during their two-hour tell-all with Oprah, the royal family’s well-intentioned actions last week may have worsened their predicament.
It's easy for the press to pooh-pooh Meghan Markle’s Little Mermaid metaphors but there can be no denying that the Sussexes have inflicted serious reputational damage to the rest of their family. The royal family now finds itself in an impossible situation. Having immediately announced an inquiry into the bullying allegations made against the Duchess of Sussex, they will come under pressure to respond in kind to these new allegations of racism and neglect of the Duchess’s mental health. Indeed, Labour has already called for an inquiry into the revelations made in the Oprah interview.
The Palace seemingly have two options. Either they broaden the scope of the existing inquiry or launch a fresh one. It’s hard to see how either course of action could end well. If no evidence of racism is found, they will inevitably be accused of a cover-up. But if Meghan and Harry’s account is proved right, this risks leaving a permanent stain on the institution. The cancellation of the royal family suddenly doesn’t seem that far-fetched as an idea. The Sussexes surely know that as long as the identity of the individual responsible for the remarks is kept secret, the story will rumble on and the slur will hang over the entire family. As with so many of their revelations, they gave the impression they were keeping the name a secret out of respect. In fact, it makes the Sussexes’ claims all the more damaging.
The worst thing the Palace could do would be to say nothing. This would give the Sussexes more grounds to suggest that the bullying inquiry is part of a one-sided character assassination against them. Having deviated from the Queen’s tried and tested policy of keeping quiet, the Palace may come to regret acting in such haste in announcing an inquiry last week. A holding statement whilst they awaited the contents of Oprah’s interview might have proved a wiser move.
The royal family can take heart from the fact that early indications show that the British public is largely on the Queen’s side. A YouGov poll showed that nearly half of Brits thought the interview was inappropriate. What is of more concern is the reaction from the Commonwealth. The likes of Jacinda Ardern were quick to dismiss suggestions that the revelations might prompt New Zealand to consider its membership of the Commonwealth. But will the same be true of other nations?
If the alleged racist remarks were made and the person responsible is a fringe member of the royal family then the response seems obvious: they should be named so that their remarks can be properly scrutinised. But if the alleged culprit is a key player in the royal family then it’s less clear how the Palace should proceed. Harry has already clarified through Oprah that it was neither the Queen nor the Duke of Edinburgh. But, by refusing to give more information, he now holds a sword of Damocles over the heads of both his father and brother. It is the reputations of these courts that the Palace will care most about.