Prince Harry, Meghan Markle to 'step back' from royal family

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are stepping back as senior members of the royal family.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex made the announcement via a "personal message" that was posted on the Sussex Royal Instagram. They say they will  "work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen".

ITV's royal editor Chris Ship says this is the equivalent of "resigning" from the family.

"It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment," the statement says.

"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."

The Prince and Duchess - who was born in the United States - said the decision came after "months of reflection and internal discussions". 

Both Harry and Meghan have been under an intense media spotlight since their highly-publicised marriage in 2018.

Late last year, the pair said they were suing Associated Newspapers over the publication of a private letter - a rare move for members of the royal family who normally ignore press comment.

Announcing the legal action, the Duke of Sussex invoked his mother, Princess Diana, who died in a car crash while being chased by paparazzi.

"My deepest fear is history repeating itself. I've seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces."

He said he and his wife respect "media freedom and objective, truthful reporting", but claimed Meghan has become a victim of tabloid press "that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences - a ruthless campagin".

"I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been," he said.

They have been critcised by some traditionalists for breaking royal protocol and conventions, including recently when the pair didn't attend the Queen's Christmas celebrations. Instead they visited Canada with their son Archie and Meghan's mother, Doria Ragland. Despite the disapproval, the pair said the Queen gave her permission for this.

However, the Duke and Duchess have also been applauded for their committment to progressive ideals, rallying behind women, wildlife campaigns and climate change advocates.

During a tour of Africa in September, Meghan, a former actress, made a rousing speech about sisterhood. 

"Just on one personal note, may I just say that while I am here with my husband as a member of the Royal Family, I want you to know that for me I am here with you as a mother, as a wife, as a woman, as a woman of colour and as your sister," she said. 

"I am here with you and I am here for you and I thank you so much for showing my husband and I the spirit of ubuntu [humanity] and I look forward to our time over the next few days together."

She went on to quote US poet and activist Maya Angelou, saying: "Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it, possibly without claiming it, she stands up for all women."

The Duchess has spoken in the past about grappling with her identity as a mixed-race woman, which she says often affected her ability to land roles in her acting career.

Meghan also spoke last year of how being a mother was difficult while under such scrutiny.

Response to the couple's announcement was mixed on Instagram.

"To a decade of happiness for you both and your sweet baby boy," said one user.

"Good for them! He doesn’t want what happened to his mother happening to his family and I completely respect that," said another.

"The rejection of duty. Poor Harry," added one.

"I knew she would be the ruin of poor Harry- ripped the guts out of his relationship with his brother."

Prince Harry is currently sixth in line to the British throne. He follows his father Prince Charles, his brother Prince William, and William's children George, Charlotte and Louis.