The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have spoken out about the 2020 US election, urging Americans to “reject hate speech, misinformation and online negativity” in a video sparking criticism that it breached UK protocol demanding political neutrality by members of the royal family.
Speaking in a Time 100 video message, Meghan called the presidential race the “most important election of our lifetime”, as the couple appealed to Americans to use their right to vote.
The couple did not endorse a candidate. However, their comments have been interpreted by some as backing Joe Biden over Donald Trump. Meghan, before she married into the royal family, was an outspoken critic of Trump, once describing him as “misogynistic” and “divisive”.
One palace insider said Harry had “crossed the line”, according to a report in the Times.
Joe Little, a royal expert who is managing editor of Majesty magazine, said: “You can understand Meghan getting involved as an American citizen, although she is now a member of the British royal family. But I think people will struggle a lot more with Prince Harry because as a prince of the blood it’s not seen as the done thing to talk about politics, be it British or American.
“He may be thousands of miles away, but yet he is still a member of the royal family, the Queen’s grandson, and it’s something he wouldn’t do were he still in the UK.”
A Buckingham Palace spokesperson said: “We would not comment. The duke is not a working member of the royal family and any comments he makes are in a personal capacity.”
The former Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, the author of And What Do You Do? – What the Royal Family Don’t Want You to Know, said: “Any private citizen is entitled to comment on the US election. The problem with Harry is he is not a private citizen because he has retained his HRH status. What he wants to try and do is have a foot in both camps, to be a royal when it suits him and a private citizen when it doesn’t.
“So if he drops the HRH, he can comment to his heart’s content on whatever he wants. But as long as he’s HRH he is to some extent representing the country.”
Though the couple did not endorse a candidate, Baker said it was “pretty clear where they are going”.
Seemingly shot at their California home, the couple, who no longer undertake royal duties but remain members of the royal family, speak directly to the camera.
Meghan says: “We’re just six weeks out from election day and today is National Voter Registration Day. Every four years we are told the same thing, that this is the most important election of our lifetime. But this one is.”
In the clip, broadcast as part of Time 100, the magazine’s annual list of the world’s 100 most influential people, she continues: “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 tells viewers: “This election I am not able to vote in the US. But many of you may not know that I haven’t been able to vote in the UK my entire life. As we approach this November, it’s vital that we reject hate speech, misinformation and online negativity.”
Speaking about online negativity, Harry also says in the clip: “When the bad outweighs the good, for many, whether we realise it or not, it erodes our ability to have compassion and our ability to put ourself in someone else’s shoes. Because 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 said the prince was not referring to Trump or any other individual. They said: “The duke was talking about the tone of the debate in the run-up to an election which is already quite febrile.
“He is not talking about any candidate or specific campaign. 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.”
Earlier this week, the feminist activist Gloria Steinem revealed Meghan had joined her in cold-calling Americans urging them to vote. Steinem also said the duchess had said she was “so excited” to see a mixed-race vice-presidential candidate in Kamala Harris, who is on the Democratic ticket.
The Queen has in the past encouraged UK citizens to vote. While opening the second term of the Welsh parliament in 2003, she voiced her concern at the low turnout in recent elections, saying: “I share your concerns that we must encourage all our people to exercise their right to vote.”