Heritage

Why Meghan Markle Isn't Allowed to Express a Political Opinion

"Royals are not meant to be controversial."
IMAGE GETTY IMAGES/ CHRIS JACKSON
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  • An Irish politician sparked controversy when she claimed Meghan Markle was "pleased" about Ireland's repeal of its abortion ban.
  • She later retracted her comments, insisting Meghan never expressed her personal opinion about abortion.
  • That's because members of the royal family are forbidden from making political statements, a policy that has gone back centuries.


Meghan Markle was inadvertently caught in a media controversy this week when an Irish politician said the Duchess of Sussex was "pleased" with the country’s referendum to repeal a ban on abortion. Senator Catherine Noone later retracted her remarks, clarifying that Markle never shared her actual stance on the issue. But the exchange cast a spotlight on a strictly enforced rule: Royals must not make public statements about their political opinions.

That's because the Queen and her relatives aren't elected officials. "The Sovereign, who represents all of the people, must be non-political," royal expert Marlene Koenig tells BAZAAR.com. "It is the job of the elected officials to be political."


Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, visit Irish President Michael Higgins, and his wife Sabina Coyne.

Koenig, a royal historian and writer of the Royal Musings blog, explains although the British monarchy needs to remain neutral, Queen Elizabeth II, who is the head of state, can "advise and warn" her ministers about legislation.

"The laws are in the sovereign’s name, but are passed by Parliament," Koenig adds.

IT ALL STARTED WITH A BEHEADING


Prince Charles at the UN Climate Summit in 2015.

The rule of royal neutrality has been in place since King Charles I lost his head in 1649, following the English Civil War with Parliament, according to CNN. In recent years, though, some members of the British royal family have found it more difficult to follow its restrictions than others.

In 2015, Prince Charles' "black-spider" memos allegedly showed the Prince of Wales promoted alternative medicine when discussing the government's health policy and lobbied for traditional education in Britain’s schools.

He reportedly wrote to then Education Secretary Charles Clarke, "My Summer Schools are also challenging the fashionable view that teachers should not impart bodies of knowledge, but should instead act as ‘facilitators’ or ‘coaches’, a notion which I find difficult to understand, I must admit.”

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Princess Diana, after her divorce from Prince Charles, spoke out against land mines, but conservative Members of Parliament expressed opposition about the fact that a former member of the royal family was becoming involved in this issue, according to the BBC. "She had to call off a meeting with members of Parliament," Koenig says. "[Diana] continued the fight, despite the criticism," Koenig adds.

There was debate around whether the issue was even political at all. "The matter is humanitarian. It is not party political," Junior International Development Minister George Foulkes argued at the time. "Indeed, some Opposition Members, of both Houses, have been involved in the all-party landmine eradication group."

STAYING MUM ON POLITICS TODAY


Keeping quiet about political issues that could affect your country is no easy task. So how will the younger generation of royals like Meghan, Prince Harry, Prince William, and Kate Middleton fare with this rule? Koenig says they have no choice but to deal with it.

"Their jobs are not meant to be controversial," she says. "Their jobs–their public roles and duties–are to represent the Sovereign, not the government."

However, Koenig says members of the Foreign Office are appointed to work for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to "guide and advise" the royals about where to make official visits.

"The Foreign Office decided the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s first overseas tour would be a quick visit to Ireland," she adds. "Neither could get involved with [the UK and Ireland's] border issue, but, no doubt, they were accompanied by members of the government involved in the Brexit negotiations." 

Since the UK has voted to leave the European Union, there are still many ongoing negotiations about how to enforce restrictions on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is a member of the EU, the BBC reports. But the royals stayed out of it during their visit. 

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MEGHAN MARKLE'S POLITICAL PAST


For Meghan, staying politically neutral may be one of the bigger adjustments she will have to make as the Duchess of Sussex, if her past is any indication. Prior to marrying Prince Harry, the former actress was very vocal about her political opinions.

On her now-deleted Instagram account, Meghan posted photos of herself with former President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and a Brexit protest sign, CNN reports. In the segment below from The Nightly Show in May 2016, she called then-candidate Donald Trump "misogynistic."

"Meghan Markle was a private citizen with the right to speak out on any topic," Koenig says in Meghan's defense.

In 2015, at the UN Women Conference in New York, Meghan also said she was "proud to be a woman and a feminist." That quote is now listed on her official royal website. The Duchess is welcome to speak about a broad topic like women's rights, but is discouraged from taking a strong stance on either side of a political issue like abortion.

"The Duchess of Sussex is a member of the British royal family," Koenig adds. "She will never be able to speak out freely on controversial subjects."

From: Harper's BAZAAR US

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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