On January 8th, 2020, the Sussexes announced their plan to step back from the royal rota system and no longer act as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family. They expressed desire to work and become financially independent while “continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen.” Capturing news headlines around the world, tabloids have dubbed the Royal couple’s decision to leave as Megxit (a portmanteau of the words “Meghan” and “exit”, and a play on the word “Brexit”). The term equates the couple’s break from the British royal family and formal royal protocol to the Brexit referendum in which the United Kingdom’s decided to withdraw from the European Union.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s bombshell announcement shocked many, including the rest of the Royal family, who have outwardly acknowledged that they would have preferred Harry and Meghan to remain full-time working members of the Royal Family. “It’s going rogue, doing things their way and at a considerable cost to the institution Harry was brought up to serve,” royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams stated.

The timing is suggestive. ‘Megxit’ follows in the aftermath of Boris-Johnson’s victory in the UK election which decimated the urban, cosmopolitan, and youth-facing Labour party, and the political earthquake of the Brexit referendum in which 51.9% of the UK population voted to leave the EU. The debate over Harry and Meghan’s push for greater independence from royal life is uncannily like the Brexit debate; emotionally hostile and split along political and generational fault lines. 

The notion of a ‘generation gap’ has been widely discussed among Western social scientists for many years. Early thinkers like Aristotle recognized the difference of opinions between one generation and another regarding politics and  values. [1] He maintained that the relationship between the generations was one of the three basic relations of society, along with the relationship between the sexes and that of master and slave. [2] For sociological theorists like Aristotle, the antagonistic relationship between youth and elders can be seen as a result of adolescent’s weak attachment within the social structure and their rapid organic and psychosexual development, which tend to orient them towards social change. From here a gap develops between the revolutionary youth and their relatively more stable elders, resulting in a generational divide seen in the collective beliefs, politics, and values of the two groups.

The generational divide in the UK is evident in the ‘Megxit’ response statistics released by the DailyMail. While 48% of ‘baby boomers’ (aged 56-74) are against Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s decision, two-thirds of Millennials (19-37) support them. A massive 89% of boomers say the couple should have told the Queen of their plans to step away from their Royal duties, while a third of millennials had no problem with the idea that the head of state was supposedly kept in the dark. Here, we can see that young people and liberals, many of whom voted to stay in the European Union, tend to be more sympathetic towards Harry and Meghan and their decision to leave. 

Older, more conservative people, a majority of whom voted to leave, tend to be more critical of the couple’s break from the royal family, and more defensive of Queen Elizabeth II and the institution of the monarchy. Where Prince Harry and Meghan’s defenders see a multiracial, trans-Atlantic family seeking refuge from a vindictive press, critics see a self-indulgent pair who “want the perks of royalty without its responsibilities, forsaking queen and country for the stardust of Hollywood.”

Harry and Meghan’s romance ultimately unfolded against the backdrop of a charged debate over immigration and the country’s national identity. As noted by Afua Hirsch, author of “Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging”, Meghan arrived at a moment in time when Brexit “emboldened people who advocated for a nationalist identity and a return to Britain’s imperial past.” Meghan represents change, not only because of her racial heritage, but also because of her strong ideas about autonomy, identity, and activism, and her rejection of tradition and royal protocol in public appearances–her very American wedding being one of them. 

In entering the royal family, members are expected to renounce their own personal desires and dedicate themselves to the monarchy, an institution that’s 1,000 years old. It seems however, that Meghan didn’t see it in those terms and was not prepared to fully give her personally life up in the way that is typically expected of spouses entering the royal family. With the pressure that the couple’s departure has put on the traditional notion of England as the ‘empire on which the sun never sets’, it is no surprise that the couple’s decision to leave the royal family triggered a hostile reaction. At such a time as this, the monarchy and other symbols of national identity exert greater pull than ever; after leaving the EU, Britons may likely hold on tighter to those things that are uniquely British, such as the royal family. 

Edited by Samantha Dagres.


[1] Aristotle. 2000. Rhetoric. South Bend: Infomotions, Inc.. Accessed January 21, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central.  2.13.6, 9, 12-14

[2] Ibid.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association. 

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