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Prince William back to work at investiture ceremony amid crisis

Prince William smiles and concentrates as he smiles and gives an MBE to expert Alex Duguid while using sign language

Prince William was back to work at Buckingham Palace today and has even taken the time to practice his sign language in the 24 hours since the Queen agreed Prince Harry could quit as a frontline royal and move to Canada.

The Duke of Cambridge put on a brave face as he stepped in for his 93-year-old grandmother at an investiture ceremony this afternoon after taking his three children to school and nursery this morning.   

Despite the turmoil in his family and the rift with his younger brother, William grinned as he knighted Theresa May's Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins and former England cricket captain Andrew Strauss before sharing a joke as he gave gongs to rapper MIA, Scottish composer Anna Meredith and BBC golf expert Ken Brown.

And in a heart-warming moment William beamed as he signed 'congratulations' as he gave an MBE to sign language expert Alex Duguid, who has signed Emmerdale and Coronation Street for deaf ITV viewers for decades.

The third in line to the throne was back to work as Meghan Markle denied she was barred from 'dialling in' to the landmark Sandringham summit from Canada as the Sussex team continues to negotiate an abdication deal on money, titles and establishing their international commercial brand.

Palace officials working for the Queen, Prince Charles and William were said to have feared yesterday's talks could have been recorded or intercepted if the Duchess took part from Vancouver, where she is with Archie.

But today the couple's Kensington Palace spokesman insisted Meghan was not shut out and just left it to her husband, saying: 'In the end, the Sussexes decided that it wasn't necessary for the Duchess to join'.

Prince Charles' wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Princess Anne, were also carrying out royal duties with a visit to the University of Aberdeen this afternoon, where Anne received an honorary degree from her sister-in-law. 

After the family meeting at Sandringham yesterday, Her Majesty released a historic and emotionally-charged statement regretting the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's bombshell decision. 

The 'big four' Windsors are not expected to meet again in person but will be consulted by phone as their private secretaries thrash out a deal over their titles, tax bills, royal duties, funding and living arrangements in Canada and the UK as well as who will pay to protect them.  

Sir Edward Young for the Queen, Clive Alderton for Charles, Simon Case for William and Fiona Mcilwham for Harry have been ordered by Her Majesty to get a deal done within days.   

Prince William was back at work today, knighting Theresa May's brexit negotiator Olly Robbins as his brother Harry's decision to quit as a frontline royal caused chaos

Rapper and singer MIA - real name Mathangi Arulpragasam is made an MBE by William before he knighted former England captain Andrew Strauss at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace today

Prince William leaves Kensington Palace after returning to London to be with his family after meeting his brother face-to-face at Sandringham yesterday before the Queen confirmed Harry's exit to Canada - but the Sussexes' spokesman has denied Meghan was barred from the summit

Prince Harry was warned there are formidable obstacles to overcome before he can stand down as a senior royal (Prince pictured with Meghan Markle at Canada House in London last Tuesday, the last time they were pictured in public)

Who is leading Megxit talks for the Queen, Charles, William and Harry?

The Queen's private secretary Sir Edward Young

Sir Edward Young, whose job may be on the line depending on the talks' outcome

Sir Edward, who has worked for the Queen for 16 years, is responsible for supporting the monarch in her duties as head of state and is the channel of communication between the Queen and the Government.

He previously worked for Granada as head of corporate communications and for the bank Barclays, where he held a range of financial and executive roles.

Sir Edward reportedly played an influential role in getting the monarch to star in the much talked-about 2012 Olympics opening sequence film with James Bond actor Daniel Craig.

But Princess Anne and Prince Edward have called on the Queen to sack him as a result of the recent royal chaos, it has been claimed.

The Prince of Wales' principal private secretary Clive Alderton

The Prince with his principal private secretary Clive Alderton

Mr Alderton is a career diplomat who became Britain's ambassador to Morocco after a previous six-year stint as an aide at Clarence House between 2006 and 2012.

Always sharply dressed with blond combed-over hair, he regularly accompanied Charles on overseas tours.

Camilla in particular is said to 'adore' him, one source told the Times.

The Duke of Cambridge's private secretary Simon Case

Brexit negotiator turned royal aide Simon Case

Mr Case was a leading civil servant previously tasked with trying to solve the border issue in Northern Ireland and Ireland during Brexit discussions.

The Cambridge University history graduate, who undertook a PhD in political history at Queen Mary university in London, also served as former Prime Minister David Cameron's principal private secretary.

He took up the role with Mr Cameron after serving as director of strategy at the intelligence and security organisation GCHQ.

The Duke of Sussex's new private secretary Fiona Mcilwham

Fiona Mcilwham, the Sussexes new private secretary is expected to be at the summit

Ms Mcilwham is a top diplomat and became one of the UK's youngest ever ambassadors when she was posted to Albania aged just 35 in 2009.

She swiftly impressed in the role, with Albanian journalist Muhamed Veliu telling the Mail on Sunday she 'quickly gained huge respect' at a time of mounting political tension over organised crime. She describes herself on social media as a 'wannabe supermum', where she also lists having held diplomatic posts in Washington, Brussels, Baghdad and Sarajevo.

Ms Mcilwham is said to have joked with colleagues: 'I was offered the Iran desk [at the FCO]. That might have been easier'. 

This morning Prince William surfaced for the first time since the Queen agreed the couple could quit as senior Royals and plan a new life together in North America with their eight-month-old son.

The Duke of Cambridge was on the school run in London this morning after spending yesterday afternoon in face-to-face talks with his grandmother, father and Harry amid claims of a deep rift between the two siblings and their spouses after a series of rows dating back a year.   

The Queen has said that hammering out a viable blueprint for Harry and Meghan's financially independent future was proving 'complex' and indicated more details need to be ironed out - including their use of the Sussex title to build their business brand in North America. 

'There will be strict instructions on branding, for example,' said one senior figure last night, adding: 'No one wants to see the Sussex name on a tub of margarine' - a nod to when Princess Diana's Memorial Fund logo appeared on millions of Flora boxes a year after her death.

Prince Charles is said to be focussed on money because Harry relies on his father's annual £2.3million Duchy of Cornwall payment to meet family bills.  The Prince of Wales has already lavished a small fortune on his younger son, from his wedding to the fitting out Frogmore cottage – the Windsor house he is now largely going to vacate when he uproots to North America. A friend said: 'He doesn't have unlimited resources. Harry needs to know that.'   

William and Harry's relationship is feared to be at an all-time low following a series of furious rows including a bust up before a polo event in July last year - while Kate and Meghan are also said to have had words after the Duchess of Sussex reportedly 'b*****ed' Kensington Palace staff before Christmas 2018.

But the Duke of Sussex is said to believe that his brother and his wife Kate 'never gave Meghan a chance' in the 20 months since their married with his wife said to have told him over Christmas in Vancouver: 'It's not working for me' - hastening their decision to quit as senior royals.

According to Daily Mail editor-at-large Richard Kay's inside account of the Norfolk showdown:

According to friends, Harry arrived ahead of schedule to square things with his grandmother, who came into the crunch talks deeply disappointed with him and Meghan for wanting to step back from their official duties. 

William skipped lunch and arrived just minutes before the talks began. 

In last night's statement, the Queen's sincere regret was made clear, saying she 'would have preferred them to remain full-time working members'.

But after her one-to-one with Harry - followed by two hours of 'calm' discussions with him, Charles and William - Her Majesty agreed to a 'transition period' where the Duke and Duchess would step away from Royal engagements as they spend more time in Canada.  

After the meeting concluded, Princes Charles, William and Harry left in three separate cars. 

The Queen has ordered staff to find a solution 'within days' to the remaining sticking points, including the couple's future funding, which is expected to impose rigid rules on their commercial activities.  

This was a deliberate nod to what happened in the aftermath of Diana's death when her memorial fund began endorsing cash-raising schemes that appalled the public. 

Yesterday's unprecedented Royal parley culminated with a 5pm statement from the Palace, in which the Queen gave Harry and Meghan the green light to press ahead with plans to become 'financially independent'. 

The monarch said: 'Today my family had very constructive discussions on the future of my grandson and his family.

'My family and I are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan's desire to create a new life as a young family. 

'Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working members of the Royal Family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family. 

'Harry and Meghan have made clear that they do not want to be reliant on public funds in their new lives.

'It has therefore been agreed that there will be a period of transition in which the Sussexes will spend time in Canada and the UK.

'These are complex matters for my family to resolve, and there is some more work to be done, but I have asked for final decisions to be reached in the coming days.'  

The Queen's statement in full Monday evening after a day of showdown talks to decide the futures of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

Prince William pictured leaving Sandringham after yesterday's crunch talks with Harry, Prince Charles and the Queen - he then drove back to London

Prince Harry (pictured leaving yesterday in the back seat), Prince William and Prince Charles left Sandringham in separate cars after more than two hours of crunch talks with the Queen

The Duke of Sussex faced the Queen, his brother and his father (pictured leaving last night) for the first time since quitting as a senior royal

Meghan's mother Doria drives in LA yesterday, as her daughter quits as a senior royal after just 20 months

The key battlegrounds for the Sussexes' Megxit deal

Titles

Harry and Meghan have made clear they wish to continue to undertake duties on behalf of the Queen - and for that they will need titles.

They could, of course, voluntarily relinquish their HRHs, which allows them to be called His and Her Royal Highness. Even if they were to do that, they could still retain their courtesy titles, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, which were given to them by the Queen when they married.

But the entire ethos of the couple's new brand - Sussex Royal - is built around the fact that they have the kudos of being a royal highness.  

Roles

'The Duke and Duchess of Sussex deeply believe in the role of The Monarchy, and their commitment to Her Majesty The Queen is unwavering,' the couple say on their new website.

It is not yet clear whether stating their hope of continuing to support the Queen was simply a clever move designed to force the royal family's hand. 

If, for whatever reason, the rest of the family say this is impossible or unwanted, it will give the Sussexes the martyrdom they crave and make the entire institution of the monarchy look old-fashioned, unwieldly and unprogressive.

But the family's biggest fear all along is that any role which consitutes a 'one foot in, one foot out' approach to being a member of the royal family is simply unworkable, particularly given the couple's determination to be able to earn their own incomes and all that entails.

One of the options on the table is that Harry and Meghan are allowed to keep their personal patronages and they would also be allowed to attend big set-piece family events such as Trooping The Colour. All other royal duties, however, would be dramatically scaled back.

Tax

Royal aides and government officials have drawn up documents setting out the 'stark reality' of stepping back from royal duties and moving abroad.

Harry could face a potential 'double tax' on any commercial income, and bills running into the millions of pounds from multiple authorities.

Canada requires residents - anyone who spends more 183 days or more in the country - and some property owners to pay income tax on their global earnings. Similar rules apply in the UK, although the limit here is 90 days.

Meghan, who is an American citizen, already has to be taxed in the US on worldwide earnings regardless of where she lives.

This means Harry might have to give up his UK residency or limit his time in Canada if he doesn't want to pay incomes in both countries, It is also likely to open up their personal financial affairs to greater scrutiny, something the royal family have never been keen on.

Funding

Harry and Meghan have made great virtue on their new website of the fact that they are to relinquish their funding via the Sovereign Grant - basically taxpayers money - which they claim amounts to just five per cent of their funding anyway.

They say it has been specifically used to fund their official office expenses - but they also get money from the public purse for travel undertaken on official engagements both in the UK and abroad which, particularly if they are travelling further afield, could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds each year - if not millions. 

Their website states for the first time that 95 per cent of their annual funding comes from the Duchy of Cornwall, a private estate used to fund the official work and living expenses of the Prince of Wales.

Will Charles want to continue to foot this? Can he justify it? And would anything he give them in the future - the bill is currently estimated to be around £2.3 million - be liable to tax now?

Commerce

Harry and Meghan claim there is 'precedent' for holding a title and earning an income and state there are current members of the Royal family who support the monarch and also have full time jobs external to those commitments. 

Harry and Meghan currently undertake 200 plus engagements a year between them while the prince is sixth in line to the throne and his son, Archie, seventh. They are high profile public figures in a way that the Queen's two gradndaughters and her cousin and his wife are just not.

Members of the Royal Family who have attempted to go down this route in the past including the Earl and Countess of Wessex - who were forced to give up their television production and PR careers after a series of scandals. Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, who famously said they would go anywhere for a hot meal, and the Duchess of York, who made a string of disastrous business deals that led her to the brink bankruptcy, have learned to their cost that it can be perilous balancing their privileged royal status with business. 

Frogmore Cottage

The couple have stated that they wish to keep Frogmore Cottage, the Crown Estate-owned home on the Queen's Windsor Estate which was refurbished for them with £2.4 million-worth of taxpayers' money.

In short, the Queen still owns the property but gave it to the Sussexes to live in for as long as they wanted and to use as their official residence. 

But the refurbishment of Frogmore and the bill to taxpayers caused a public outcry at the time, and members of the public have made clear in recent surveys that they will not stomach the couple still owning it, while spending the majority of their time out of the country.

Security

As members of the Royal Family, the couple are entitled to 24/7 taxpayer funded protection from Scotland Yard, whether they are at home or abroad, undertaking official duties or on holiday.

Harry and Meghan have made clear that they believe this should continue.

The Metropolitan Police have privately insinuated, however, that they are not in the position to write an open-ended cheque for round-the-clock security if they are living abroad and it is understood that they have launched a review into the issue.

Buckingham Palace, the Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill and the Home Office have already discussed the future of the couple's security - the bill for which is already close to £1million a year. Police will not turn their backs on Harry and Meghan. But a compromise does need to be found.

The Queen, who is desperate to chart a way out of the crisis raging through the Family ranks, has ordered courtiers to double down efforts to develops blueprint for the Sussexes future, to be completed within days.  

In the statement, the head of state broke with protocol to refer to the couple by their first names rather than the 'Duke and Duchesss of Sussex'.

Some experts have decoded this to mean Harry and Meghan could be stripped of their titles, while others have played it down as the grandmother, 93, simply striking a soft tone. 

Royal commentator Victoria Arbiter said the move was likely to be telling, tweeting : 'I do think it was very striking, particularly in a statement from the Queen. Are they having to give up their titles? This would be an indication they are...'

Reacting to the statement, Queen Elizabeth biographer and royal historian Robert Lacey said the language was an immensely personal intervention uncharacteristic of typical Palace communiqués.

He told BBC Radio 4: 'It is remarkably hands-on. I mean it may have been processed through officials but this is the Queen, speaking to her people and speaking about her family, and I think coming right through it is the concern she feels.' 

Speaking to the Times, royal author Ingrid Seward said: 'The first round has gone to the Sussexes. It feels that the royal family are bending over backwards to try and help.' 

Yesterday's unprecedented meeting represented the first time that Harry, 35, had met with his closest relatives since early November, with the prince and his wife having taken a six-week break in Canada over the Christmas period. Although they arrived back only last week, Meghan, 38, has already returned to the country. 

Aides have now been set to work to try to come up with a workable solution to the crisis preferably by Friday.

This includes enabling the couple to find a way to become 'financially independent' and not rely on taxpayer funds in the future, as well as acceding to their wish to live partly in Canada for the foreseeable future.

Other issues left on the table for further discussion are the cost and provision of the couple's security, particularly while they are spending large swathes of time out of the country.

There is also the matter of Frogmore Cottage, the couple's Windsor home lent to them by the Queen, and refurbished with £2.4million of public money. The couple have insisted that they want to keep the property as a base in the UK.

It is clear that despite the Queen's emphasis on the meeting being 'constructive and supportive', the schism between Harry and his family runs deep. 

The statement failed to hide the sadness of the elderly monarch who has made no secret of the hurt her grandson has caused her in wanting to break away from the institution and choosing to tell the world of his intentions last Wednesday without informing her first.

Harry is expected to leave the country to rejoin his family by the end of the week, after conducting what will likely be an awkward engagement at Buckingham Palace on Thursday in front of the media.

Yesterday's 'Sandringham summit' saw Harry arrive at 11.20am, with his grandmother and father already waiting for him.

At his side was his newly-appointed private secretary, Fiona Mcilwham. His frail grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, was earlier seen driving out of the estate and it is not known if the pair, once so close, even met.

Intriguingly, his brother William, whose relationship with his brother has become so toxic that many insiders describe it as 'irreparable', did not pull through the gates of the Queen's Norfolk estate until 1.45pm, just 15 minutes before the start of the summit. 

It is understood that Meghan, who flew back to Canada just 24 hours after the couple's bombshell statement last week announcing they were to stand down as senior royals, was planning to dial in on speaker phone. She is staying at the couple's borrowed mansion on Vancouver Island with their eight-month-old son Archie.

Some in royal circles suggested last night that Harry and Meghan had left the Queen little option but to capitulate to most of their demands to prevent a 'royal war'.

The statement's talk of a 'transition period' for the couple between the UK and Canada was said by one aide to be simply a chance for the family to gain breathing space while 'this mess of Harry and Meghan's own making is sorted out'.

The acknowledgement that they will hand over their public funding in order to become 'financially independent' appears to give them the licence to strike commercial deals as part of their 'Sussex Royal' brand, which some experts predict could be worth at least £400million.

But senior royals are said to be aghast at this idea of monetising the monarchy and want an assurance from Harry and US-born Meghan that they will treat their positions with respect.

The Queen's decision to refer in her statement to the couple by their first names, an unusually intimate reference, particularly for the monarch, has also sparked speculation that the couple are set to lose their titles.

Aides say that this is unlikely as the family is acutely aware of the public backlash when Harry's mother Diana, Princess of Wales, was stripped of her own HRH. 

Asked if they could remember a time that the Queen has ever issued such an official personal statement about a member of her family, aides both past and present were at a loss to remember one.

The Queen has referred with warmth and affection to her husband, Philip, and the Prince of Wales in speeches and other tributes, and addressed other issues such as her famous 'annus horribilis' in the Christmas speech.

Other statements about family affairs have been issued by Buckingham Palace on her behalf, but always by a spokesman.

Royal insiders have told the Mail it is clear that she fears for the future of the institution.

Although she and Charles are agreed on the importance of a slimmed-down monarchy in the future, Harry and his family were always considered an important part of the line-up. 

Prince William is seen driving his Land Rover through the back gate of Sandringham to return to his Amer House after the Royal summit yesterday

Charles drives his silver Audi A6, believed to be heading to RAF Marham where a helicopter was waiting for him

The Queen (pictured attending church at Sandringham on Sunday), made clear her deep disappointment at Harry and Meghan's decision to quit in a statement released yesterday

What does the Queen's statement reveal? 

Today my family had very constructive discussions on the future of my grandson and his family. 

The fact that the Queen issued the statement in her name and makes reference to 'my family' and 'my grandson and his family' is both deliberate and significant. 

The monarch has been deeply hurt by the events of the past week – but has also been taken aback by the backlash against Harry after he issued his statement without letting her know first. The Queen wants the world to know she's not just boss of 'The Firm' but also a grandmother. 

My family and I are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan's desire to create a new life as a young family.  

The Queen, as well as other senior members of the Royal Family, make clear their hurt at recent events. There's also bewilderment that Harry, in particular, feels that he has been frozen out of plans for a future slimmed-down monarchy.

At the time of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012, when the Queen, Charles and his two sons stood on the balcony at Buckingham Palace, sources say it was made crystal clear to Harry that he was a 'key component' of any future royal line-up.

Royal Family members believe Harry brings a welcome joie de vivre, and without him and Meghan senior royals will be lacking.

The Queen does, however, understand his desire to break away and his refusal to bow to convention. 

Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working Members of the Royal Family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family.

The Queen is deeply disappointed with Harry and Meghan shirking their Royal duties. 

Harry and Meghan have made clear that they do not want to be reliant on public funds in their new lives. 

The lack of detail on this speaks volumes: there is much to be sorted here.

Harry and Meghan are predicted to make millions as a global 'brand'.

But it will not be cheap to maintain a transatlantic lifestyle for their family with at least two homes. The statement does not address whether Charles will continue to fund his son to the tune of £2million a year. It also avoids the issue of taxpayer-funded security and consular help.

The royals fear any sense of 'cashing in' could devalue their own brand.

It has therefore been agreed that there will be a period of transition in which the Sussexes will spend time in Canada and the UK.

The royal stop-gap. In moving their son, their dogs and their household over to Canada, Harry and Meghan have already signalled to the Queen that, for the immediate future at least, there is no intention of coming back.

In this the Queen has had very little choice. She can't order them to return, so she might as well capitulate in order to keep the peace while trying to formalise the new arrangements. 

These are complex matters for my family to resolve, and there is some more work to be done, but I have asked for final decisions to be reached in the coming days.

This is an unprecedented crisis for the Family which is far from over. The Queen is desperate for the storm to pass and has asked her courtiers to double down on efforts to reach a solution. 

Boris Johnson said he was 'absolutely confident' that the royal family would  be able to resolve the crisis around the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's future roles.

The Prime Minister told BBC Breakfast: 'My view on this is very straightforward: I am a massive fan - like most of our viewers - of the Queen and the royal family as a fantastic asset for our country.

'I'm absolutely confident that they are going to sort this out.'

But he said it would be 'easier' for them to resolve the issues without a running commentary from him.

Asked if the royals had the right to a private life, Mr Johnson said: 'I think that all those dilemmas are well understood and I have absolutely no doubt they are going to sort it out.

'But they are going to sort it out much more easily without a running commentary from politicians.'

In response to suggestions that race was an issue in the media coverage of the Duchess of Sussex, Mr Johnson dodged the question, saying: 'I don't think this is helped by running commentary from politicians.

'The royal family is a fantastic part of our country - and so is the media, by the way.'

Canada's prime minister Justin Trudeau was asked during an interview with Global News on Monday whether Canadian taxpayers would have to pay.

He replied: 'That is part of the reflection that needs to be had and there are discussions going on.

'We're not entirely sure what the final decisions will be, what the dispositions are and those are decisions for them.

'I think most Canadians are very supportive of having royals be here, but how that looks and what kind of costs are involved, there are still lots of discussions to have.'

Kate looked serious as she left Kensington Palace this morning as her husband comes face to face with his want-away brother yesterday. The Duchess was far more casually dressed as she left on the school run this afternoon

Yesterday a Range Rover believed to be carrying Prince Harry entered Sandringham via an back entrance as the royal summit over his and Meghan's future began this afternoon 

A grim-faced Prince Philip leaves Sandringham yesterday with a female companion driving where his wife the Queen, who has been using him as a sounding board, will try to avert crisis and keep Prince Harry in the royal family

Since making their bombshell announcement on Wednesday to quit, Harry and Meghan have grabbed headlines all across the world, with reporters camped outside Sandringham yesterday

Harry and Meghan spent six weeks over the festive period based in the Canadian province of British Columbia staying at an exclusive property on Vancouver Island.

The duchess, a former actress, lived and worked in Toronto during her time starring in the popular US drama Suits, and knows the country well having lived there for seven years.

Mr Trudeau said the federal Canadian government had not been involved 'up until this point' about what the couple's move to the country will involve.

He added: 'There are still a lot of decisions to be taken by the royal family, by the Sussexes themselves, as to what level of engagement they choose to have.

'We are obviously supportive of their reflections but have responsibilities in that as well.'

The Sussexes enjoyed a 'general feeling of appreciation' in Canada, he added.

For a moment it was just the two of them: Prince Harry arrived two hours early, and the monarch and grandson were talking quietly about the future. Read RICHARD KAY's gripping inside story of the Megxit summit...

By Richard Kay for the Daily Mail 

...As all around, the normal hustle and bustle of the Norfolk house was stilled while staff busied themselves far from where this extraordinary Royal Family drama was set to play out: the Queen's private apartments on the first floor, the dining room and, nearby, the Long Library.

Prince Harry had swept through the gates in the back seat of a Range Rover with darkened rear windows.

He arrived in good time for lunch. More importantly, his arrival allowed him time to seek out his grandmother ahead of the summit with his father and brother.

Prince Charles was already there. He had flown in from Oman by private jet on Sunday night after paying his respects on the death of the Arab state's leader, Sultan Qaboos. A car had driven him the 15 miles from RAF Marham.

William was last to arrive, picked up from his home at nearby Anmer in a black Land Rover Defender and entering the estate through a cul-de-sac next to the primary school at West Newton. It was 1.45pm. The meeting had been set for 2pm.

Scene of the showdown: Members of the family gathered at the Queen's Sandringham estate in Norfolk for a historic royal summit

Earlier, another part of this gripping tableau had taken place: Prince Philip – the patriarchal figure who for so long had dominated all family discussions – had quietly left the house, driven away in his Land Rover Freelander by Countess Mountbatten, the former Lady Penny Romsey who helps care for him.

Just how strategic this departure was, was not immediately clear. But the fact he left more than an hour and a half before the Duke of Sussex arrived was seen as significant. At 98, he no longer lays down the law as he once did and some courtiers wonder if this was his way of saying 'this is not my fight'.

It may also be that by making himself absent he could not be drawn into a situation where the mantra which governed his attitude to royal life – 'you are either in the family or out' – was being tested by Harry and Meghan's wish to be part-time royals.

Twenty-seven years ago, it was the measured and cool Philip who handled the catastrophe over Charles and Diana's marriage by acting as an honest broker between the warring couple.

How the Queen must have wished for the composure of her unflinching husband as this most difficult of situations unspooled.

According to informed sources, the mood at the meeting was calm and there are no reports of shouting or blistering exchanges.

The discussions were led by the Prince of Wales, who perhaps has more invested in the outcome than anyone. It will be his money that funds a future independent life for Harry and Meghan and it is their co-operation that he requires if he is to see through his dream of a slimmed-down monarchy fit for the 21st century.

Finding an accommodation was the watchword. William, who has so often been in disagreement with his father in recent times, is believed to have supported this approach. But it was the Queen to whom it has fallen to resolve this most heart-breaking family crisis. And the statement that came in her name was laced with despair.

Not since 1997 in the aftermath of the death of Diana has the Queen issued such a personal bulletin.

Then, she addressed a nation in shock and by including the magical phrase that she was speaking 'as a grandmother' defused the resentment that had built up over the Royal Family's failure to speedily acknowledge the loss of the princess.

Now here she was 22 years later grappling with the conflict over Diana's son and his demand to stand down as a senior royal and move overseas with his wife and young son Archie.

Can there ever have been a more poignant communique?

Her message was clear that she will not stand in the couple's way but it is with a heavy heart that she has agreed. In one sentence alone, her sadness about this incendiary situation shone through. 

'Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working members of the Royal Family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family.'

It was the Queen to whom it has fallen to resolve this most heart-breaking family crisis. And the statement that came in her name was laced with despair

Unsaid was the anguish felt around the conference table at Sandringham yesterday afternoon that little more than 18 months after a wedding that delighted the watching world, no one knows what will happen to Harry and Meghan in their semi-detached status from the House of Windsor.

What does seem certain is that the tricky issue of their titles, while not referred to, has been papered over. The language the Queen uses is of conciliation and it is carefully chosen.

In the first instance, she refers to 'my grandson'. The next reference is to 'Harry and Meghan'. Only once does she mention the pair by their official name when she talks about the 'Sussexes' spending time in Canada and the UK. This last must be an oblique nod to their titles as duke and duchess and the HRH style they also enjoy. 

From this it seems there will be none of the punishment meted out to both Diana and the Duchess of York, who both lost their royal highness titles on divorce.

Repeating the mistakes of the past was not on the agenda.

Above all, the palace view was that nothing should be put in writing which would inflame an already tense position.

It was for that reason that it is thought there was no open telephone line to Meghan in Canada. According to palace officials, such an idea was rejected because no one knew for sure who else might have been listening in. 'This was a highly confidential family discussion, not a conference call,' says one insider.

Harry is thought to have reached Sandringham early specifically to allow him some time alone with his grandmother. 

Unlike William, who had been at the Royal Family Christmas, Harry had been 5,000 miles away on Vancouver Island off the west coast of Canada. According to friends, he wanted to put his side of the story to the Queen.

He was also able to see his father, who has been perplexed by his decisions that could yet have a profound effect on the future direction of the family.

For Charles, the matter is far from concluded. He knows Harry will rely on his Duchy of Cornwall to meet family bills. He has already lavished a small fortune on his younger son, from his wedding to the fitting out of Frogmore cottage – the Windsor house he is now largely going to vacate.

After 90 brisk minutes, the Long Library (pictured) meeting broke up and the four royals went in different directions

Says a friend: 'He doesn't have unlimited resources. Harry needs to know that.'

This is why more talks are planned, though these are likely to involve officials rather than the family group.

It is hoped that the couple's future funding will act as a brake on their money-making plans. 'There will be strict instructions on branding, for example,' says one figure. No one wants to see the Sussex name on a tub of margarine.'  

This was a deliberate nod to what happened in the aftermath of Diana's death when her memorial fund began endorsing cash-raising schemes that appalled the public.

And just as it was then, it is public attitudes which are likely to shape Harry and Meghan's financial future. Courtiers intend to make it clear that the country will not wear the couple exploiting their royal status for money.

After 90 brisk minutes, the Long Library meeting broke up and the four royals went in different directions.

The Queen returned to her upstairs suite. At 3.45pm, Prince Charles left behind the wheel of a silver Audi heading for Marham where a helicopter was waiting to fly him back to Birkhall, his home on the Balmoral estate.

Harry left moments later.

The skies were darkening as William, the last to leave, set off for Anmer Hall just after 4pm.

The question now is what happens next.

Princes blast bullying 'lies': In a rare joint statement, the brothers condemn 'offensive' claim William forced Harry and Meghan out

By Rebecca English for the Daily Mail 

Princes William and Harry gave a rare display of public unity yesterday to condemn claims that the Duke of Sussex had been 'bullied out' of the Royal Family by his own brother.

Their joint statement described reports in The Times as 'offensive and potentially harmful' in light of their work on mental health.

It read: 'Despite clear denials, a false story ran in a UK newspaper today speculating about the relationship between the Duke of Sussex and the Duke of Cambridge.

'For brothers who care so deeply about the issues surrounding mental health, the use of inflammatory language in this way is offensive and potentially harmful.'

William and Harry, along with the Duchess of Cambridge, collaborated on the Heads Together campaign to stamp out the stigma on mental health issues. All three royals have campaigned extensively against bullying.

Princes William and Harry gave a rare display of public unity yesterday to condemn claims that the Duke of Sussex had been 'bullied out' of the Royal Family by his own brother. Pictured: The brothers in 2018

It would be unusual even under normal circumstances for the brothers to issue a joint statement on any single story in the media. One of the last times they did so was when an Italian magazine published distressing images of their dying mother in 2006.

Since the rift that led to the division of their joint household last year, many presumed it would never happen again.

But the brothers were stung into action by yesterday's Times article, which reported that an insider suggested Harry and Meghan 'regarded themselves as having been pushed away by what they saw as a bullying attitude from the Duke of Cambridge'.

It added the Sussexes 'wanted to step away from their royal role after two years of constantly being told their place'.

The newspaper said the source, who 'knows the couple well', dates the rift back to before their wedding in 2018 as Harry felt his brother was 'insufficiently welcoming' towards Meghan when they first started dating. The source was also quoted as saying of William and his wife Kate: 'From the start their response was not very clever, not very friendly.

William and Harry, along with the Duchess of Cambridge, collaborated on the Heads Together campaign to stamp out the stigma on mental health issues. Pictured: Harry, Meghan, William and The Duchess of Cambridge in March last year

Royal aides made clear yesterday that the brothers were deeply unhappy with the claims. Pictured: The brothers in 2010

'Quite early on they decided, 'right, we are going to tell these people their place and we are going to push them away'.'

Royal aides made clear yesterday that the brothers were deeply unhappy with the claims. However, they did not comment on or reject other allegations, including that Meghan was determined to walk away from the Royal Family but 'heartbroken' that Harry felt torn by his decision to leave the UK.

A source in the Sussex camp described the suggestion that William had bullied his brother as 'deeply disappointing'. Suggestions of a rift between the pair are not new.

Last year, Prince Harry told broadcaster Tom Bradby that while he loved his brother dearly, 'we are on different paths'. In an article headlined 'Harry and Meghan's escape from the poisonous palace', Mr Bradby wrote at the weekend that senior royals had been 'jealous and unfriendly' and he had no doubt Harry and Meghan felt 'driven out'.

The ITV presenter, who is close to Harry, also raised the possibility of the couple doing a 'no-holds-barred' interview if they failed to get their way in negotiations, writing in The Sunday Times that 'I don't think it would be pretty'.

A Sussex aide said yesterday there were 'no plans' for an interview. Sources noted that Meghan was using the aggressive US PR firm Sunshine Sachs, leaving many Palace figures 'out of the loop'. 

Queen is 'bending over backwards to try and help Meghan and Harry': Royal experts give their verdicts on the historic Sandringham Summit

By Danyal Hussain for MailOnline 

The Queen is 'bending over backwards' to try and help Prince Harry and Meghan Markle after the pair announced they would be stepping back from Royal duties in a bid to become 'financially independent'.

Royal experts have claimed that a dramatic statement from the Queen had been penned in order to look after her vulnerable grandchild.

In her statement, Her Majesty made clear her disappointment at the couple's decision to quit their Royal duties but said the royal family 'understand and respect' their wishes.

The Queen's words came after a summit at Sandringham between herself, Prince Charles, Prince William and Harry, with Meghan believed to have dialled in from Canada.

After the meeting at Sandringham this afternoon, one expert claimed the victory had gone to the young Royals.

Ingrid Seward (left) said that the Susessexes had won the first battle. Penny Junor (right) described the monarch's words on the future of Harry and Meghan as 'friendly and warm'

Speaking to the Times, royal author Ingrid Seward said: 'The first round has gone to the Sussexes. It feels that the royal family are bending over backwards to try and help.'

This is while royal expert Penny Junor said the Queen was 'carefully handling a vulnerable Duke and Duchess of Sussex' and that the pair had 'got what they wanted.

'They have decided that Harry and Meghan must go off and do what they want to do, and they will support them'.

She also described the monarch's words on the future of Harry and Meghan as 'friendly and warm'.

The couple, who do not want to be publicly funded, will have a period of transition in which the Sussexes will spend time in Canada and the UK, but final decisions will also be reached in the coming days.

'I think it's a positive statement. It sounds friendly and warm, the way the Queen talks about family so much,' Junor said.

'That she's supportive of their decision is really good news.'

She added: 'It read to me like a grandmother talking about the family.'

The royal writer said it gave the couple space to find their perspective.

Robert Lacey (left) said the language was personal, while Victoria Arbiter, right with her husband Dickie, said the move was 'likely to be telling'

'I think it will take the pressure off them. I think they're in a very vulnerable state at the moment. I think they're unhappy, they feel isolated and unloved, unappreciated and they needed careful handling,' she said.

'My reading from that statement is that the family has been sensitive to their vulnerability.'

Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine, believes the Queen's statement, which uses the word 'family' eight times, was intended to be 'very gentle and very informal'.

'It's just the way it's written is extremely informal, and I think that's to make it very friendly,' the royal biographer said.

'And I think it's quite gentle. And I think that's probably the whole approach, it's gently, gently. And interestingly enough, she keeps mentioning family, the whole way through.

'It's certainly not Oscar Wilde. But I just think it's a very together and quite loose statement and obviously it's just to keep everybody happy moving forward.'

Asked about the next steps following the statement, Ms Seward said: 'She said in the coming days, so that's very quick for the royal family.

'I think we'll be hearing more quite shortly - I think this is a bridge.'

Meanwhile, biographer and royal historian Robert Lacey said the language was an immensely personal intervention uncharacteristic of typical Palace communiqués.

He told BBC Radio 4: 'It is remarkably hands-on. I mean it may have been processed through officials but this is the Queen, speaking to her people and speaking about her family, and I think coming right through it is the concern she feels.'

Royal commentator Victoria Arbiter added that the move was likely to be telling, tweeting : 'I do think it was very striking, particularly in a statement from the Queen. Are they having to give up their titles? This would be an indication they are...' 

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