Very popular, the British monarchy is not at its first crisis. But the shock interview of Prince Harry and Meghan, and their accusations of racism reveal divisions announcing difficult challenges for the crown.
The couple’s revelations, especially over questions about their son’s skin color, represent a “power disaster for the UK” and raise the question of whether the monarchy “can, or must, outlive the queen” , noted Times correspondent Catherine Philp.
In the polls, the interview-confession has so far had little impact on the popularity of the institution.
About a third of people polled by the YouGov institute said their sympathy went mainly to the royal family, against only 22% for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
“It’s a crisis for the family, but it concerns the royal family seen as a soap opera. It is not a crisis of the monarchy as an institution, ”said Robert Hazell, professor of constitutional law at University College London, to AFP.
For him, it would become if “the polls showed a significant drop in support for the monarchy.”
For now, Queen Elizabeth II remains hugely popular in the UK, with an approval rating of 79% to make any leader in the world green with envy. The millennial institution also remains dear to the hearts of the British, of whom only 17% think the country would be better off without, according to an Ipsos Mori poll conducted this week.
But the year 2020 was extremely difficult for the royal family, with the withdrawal of the “Sussexes”, but also that of Prince Andrew, second son of the queen, forced to withdraw after a controversial interview in which he defended his links to the late American billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, accused of sexually exploiting minors.
Public opinion is also clearly less favorable to Prince Charles, heir to the crown.
“The queen always arouses a worldwide admiration and which crosses the generations”, noted Catherine Philp. But “Charles is perhaps the member of the royal family who passes the interview the worst,” she added, seeing “potentially a much bigger problem for the monarchy than the image of a + Firm +” anonymous and insensitive ”.
Another problem is the support of the younger generations, who grew up in a more diverse environment and are much more sensitive to accusations of racism.
Only 29% of 18-34 year olds surveyed by Ipsos Mori think the UK would be worse off if the monarchy were abolished, 45% believing it wouldn’t change anything, and 19% that the country would be better off.
Change the constitution
“When the queen dies, Prince Charles will be a very old monarch” (he is already 72 years old), which “will have nothing to do with the young Queen Elizabeth in 1952” adds Robert Hazell.
“It is very likely that the tabloids will then conduct polls to find out who Prince Charles or the young and attractive Prince William is desired as king. It will be difficult for the monarchy, ”he warns.
But if Republicans are to seize the opportunity to end the monarchy, they will have to overcome significant obstacles to overthrow this institution that has gone through centuries of intrigue and scandal, starting with changing the constitution.
“And while it’s not written, all commentators agree that such a big change would require a referendum,” says Hazell.
Barely emerging from five difficult years of division caused by the decision to leave the European Union in 2016, the United Kingdom is probably not ready to relaunch itself in a second referendum on such a hot topic.
Even if Charles turns out to be unpopular, “it is not a threat to the monarchy as an institution, it is a threat to Charles as a king”, slices the professor, estimating that the monarchy still had beautiful days ahead of her thanks to the popular Prince William.