WICKED! Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Fire Entire UK Staff and Close Buckingham Palace Office

Prince Harry poses with Meghan Markle in the Sunken Garden of Kensington Palace. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Harry and Meghan are axing 15 staff and closing their Buckingham Palace office.

It is the surest sign yet that the couple and their son Archie are unlikely ever to return to the UK to live.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex broke the news to their team in person in January following the announcement that they were stepping down as senior working royals.

While one or two may be absorbed back into the royal household, most are now negotiating redundancy packages.

They are the latest casualties of Harry and Meghan’s bombshell decision to move to North America and make their fortunes outside the Royal Family.

Last night Buckingham Palace said it did not comment on staffing matters but it is understood senior royals, including the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William are aware of the office closure and redundancies.

A source told the Mail: ‘Given their decision to step back, an office at Buckingham Palace is no longer needed. While the details are still being finalised and efforts are being made to redeploy people within the royal household, unfortunately there will be some redundancies.’

Among those to lose their jobs are the couple’s newly appointed private secretary, Fiona Mcilwham – although she is on secondment from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and is likely to be found in a role in Whitehall – and their hugely experienced communications chief Sara Latham.

Harry’s long-standing programme co-ordinator Clara Loughran, who was so well regarded by the prince that she was asked to hand Meghan her bouquet in church on her wedding day, will go.

As well as Miss Latham – who previously worked for the Obamas and was Hillary Clinton’s senior campaign adviser – her deputy, assistant communications secretary Marnie Gaffney, is understood to be leaving.

A much-loved and long-serving member of Buckingham Palace press staff, she played a major role in supporting Harry on his military work and organised his and Meghan’s hugely successful official tours to Australia and Africa.

The Queen made her a member of the Royal Victorian Order because of her devoted service.

The other press officer to lose her job is Julie Burley, who worked for Harry, William and Kate on their successful mental health campaign Heads Together.

David Watkins, poached from fashion house Burberry in August as the couple’s social media expert, is also out.

The source insisted that while ‘Megxit’ had come as a complete shock to the team, most accept their fate. ‘The Duke and Duchess have a small team, less than 15 people. The team are very loyal to the Sussexes and understand and respect the decision they have taken,’ the source said.

‘They are all close and supporting each other. The team are busy helping to set their Royal Highnesses up for the future and working on a series of final engagements.’

It is understood that this includes the Mountbatten Festival of Music at the Royal Albert Hall on March 7, which will be Harry’s last engagement as Captain-General of the Royal Marines. He and Meghan are also expected to attend the Commonwealth Day service on March 9.

One or two other engagements are being scheduled before the couple return to Canada to embark on their new life. When they announced their decision to step back in early January, Harry and Meghan insisted they would be splitting their time between the UK and North America. But this latest move suggests that any trips back to the UK will be limited. One source said: ‘I do think they will be back a little bit. They genuinely do plan to keep their patronages and maintain that work in the UK.’

Some of the outgoing staff started working with Harry long before his marriage to Meghan.

One royal source told the Mail: ‘I don’t think it will comes as surprise to anyone that these have been incredibly trying circumstances for their team, who have experienced some very difficult times of late. They are all good people, very loyal and brilliant at their jobs, and everyone feels incredibly sorry for them.’

Another insider made clear that the couple’s decision to hire a team of US-based agents and publicists, many of whom worked for Meghan when she was an actress, had made life incredibly difficult for their Palace staff.

The couple have been organising private engagements and briefings with the US team and hired a Canadian designer to create a new website without any involvement from the royal advisers.

This has led to a number of embarrassing blunders. ‘There are several instances when advice was clearly been given to them by the Palace team and wasn’t listened to,’ the source revealed. ‘They have done the best they possibly could against a backdrop of multiple international advisers, publicists and high-profile friends.’

‘Harry and Meghan’s team are so loyal, probably to a fault sometimes. They are firefighting for the couple while knowing they are about to lose their jobs. Efforts are being made to redeploy some people. But in truth that will be a small fraction of the total staff.’

A small team will continue to be employed privately in London to mastermind Harry’s new eco-friendly travel initiative, Travalyst, launched last year.

It is thought that the redundancies will be concluded by the time Harry and Meghan’s ‘transition’ in stepping down as senior royals is formally concluded

This is likely to be around mid to late March, when they return for their final official duties.

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Richard Kay: So much for keeping ties to Britain 

No one can truly say they didn’t see this coming. The die, after all, was cast at that historic Sandringham summit when it was announced that Harry and Meghan were forsaking their royal life for a future that may yet prove to be elusive.

Even so there was a ruthlessness to the news that they have given marching orders to virtually all their Palace staff whose only crime had been to serve the Duke and Duchess of Sussex with nothing short of absolute devotion.

How hollow those reassuring words, issued just a month ago on behalf of the couple that they would divide their time – and their responsibilities – between the UK and Canada, now sound.

For the only interpretation to be drawn from the Daily Mail’s revelation is that the idea of a half-in, half-out existence – with them choosing what they would do to help the Queen and when they would do it – was nothing less than half-baked.

It now looks like little more than a slice of royal deception, sold to us to make their departure from these shores somehow more palatable.

Privately, many in the royal household questioned how practical such an arrangement could possibly be. For the staff, who even yesterday were still fire-fighting on Harry and Meghan’s behalf, notably over reports that the Prince was cosying up to Goldman Sachs, the world’s most powerful investment bank, their sackings are, of course, a personal tragedy.

Many had been recruited in the heady excitement that surrounded the couple following their 2018 wedding, attracted by their promise to be the most forward-looking and modern members of the Royal Family ever.

Some had given up other posts, and it is likely that only a few can be absorbed into other palace roles. But while they will have every reason to feel bitterly disappointed at how their loyalty has been rewarded, the implications of these substantial domestic changes are profound.

Privately, many in the royal household questioned how practical such an arrangement could possibly be. For the staff, who even yesterday were still fire-fighting on Harry and Meghan’s behalf, notably over reports that the Prince was cosying up to Goldman Sachs, the world’s most powerful investment bank, their sackings are, of course, a personal tragedy.

Many had been recruited in the heady excitement that surrounded the couple following their 2018 wedding, attracted by their promise to be the most forward-looking and modern members of the Royal Family ever.

Some had given up other posts, and it is likely that only a few can be absorbed into other palace roles. But while they will have every reason to feel bitterly disappointed at how their loyalty has been rewarded, the implications of these substantial domestic changes are profound.

Courtiers believe they do not just signal an ending of the Sussexes’ links to Britain, but also a ‘power shift’ towards Meghan. In a little over a month Harry has lost a terrifying amount. He has broken with his family, his friends and his way of life. He will never again wear the military uniform he so treasured. By parting company with his dedicated London secretariat he is now effectively severing his royal connections, too.

There will also be speculation about what this means for the couple’s son, Archie, and his education. Will he become the first of the Queen’s great-grandchildren to be schooled abroad?

Harry’s wife, meanwhile, has secured her move back to her adopted home of Canada where she has in place a team of mainly US professionals who helped her develop her career as an actress.

It is they who will now be guiding the couple. They include a sharp-elbowed US public relations company, Sunshine Sachs, along with Meghan’s former agent, lawyer and business manager.

Without the familiarity of his London advisors, Harry is likely to become ever more dependent on Meghan’s team.

And with such figures at the helm there is every chance that the couple will be making more appearances of the kind they conducted last week when they were guests at a conference for the bank JP Morgan in Florida, where they rubbed shoulders with some of America’s richest figures.

In her statement a month ago, Harry’s grandmother spoke carefully and precisely about the discussion she’d had ‘on the future of my grandson and his family’.

By allowing a transition period for both sides to adjust and by refusing to strip the couple of their HRH titles – though they will not use them – the Queen was making clear, despite her sadness, that the door was still open.

The inescapable conclusion is that, by issuing redundancy notices to their staff, Harry and Meghan have themselves slammed the door shut.

SOURCE: Daily Mail, Rebecca English and Richard Kay