A New Royal Baby Offers Brits a Welcome Reprieve

The anxiety over Brexit can now be replaced by a fresh obsession.

Frank Augstein / AP

With Brexit (briefly) on hold, Britons finally have the chance to focus on other important things: Climate change. Local elections. The upcoming state visit of President Donald Trump.

But perhaps no topic has generated more interest—or gossip—than the arrival of the newest member of the British royal family. Prince Harry announced Monday that he was “absolutely thrilled” that his wife had given birth to a baby boy.

If ever a distraction from Brexit was needed, this is it.

The long-anticipated birth of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s baby was subject to intense tabloid and public scrutiny—fueled, in part, by the atypical secrecy surrounding the child’s birth. Earlier this month, Buckingham Palace announced that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, to use Harry’s and Meghan’s official titles, would keep the details surrounding the baby’s birth private until “they have had an opportunity to celebrate privately as a new family.” This includes the couple forgoing the traditional photo op with their newborn outside the Lindo Wing at London’s St. Mary’s Hospital. That the public would be kept in the dark over when and where the baby was born, and by which medical team, was met with particular ire by some members of the British press. The Sun, one of Britain’s most widely circulated tabloids, dubbed the secrecy “a bad look for the royal couple” and an infringement on “our royal rights.” The one detail the royal couple did share Monday was the baby’s weight: seven pounds, three ounces, they said.

The British tabloid press has covered the royal family’s nuptials, pregnancies, and supposed feuds with an ardor that has occasionally trespassed into belligerence. In the 1980s, Princess Diana felt so beleaguered by the media’s focus on her pregnancy that the queen’s press secretary had to have a word with the country’s notoriously prickly press. It wasn’t always so. In a different era, Elizabeth’s first pregnancy was announced in a more understated way: “Her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth will undertake no public engagements after the end of June,” the palace announced.

But in recent years, a media frenzy has accompanied every royal wedding and childbirth. Tens of millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic tuned in to Harry and Meghan’s televised wedding last year, just as they did for that of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011.

What is new, however, is the context: After months of seemingly inescapable Brexit coverage, the arrival of “Baby Sussex” has given Brits a welcome reprieve from the impasse over the country’s exit from the European Union.

Though it traditionally takes a few days for the public to learn the name of the child (and people have already been guessing), a number of other questions are likely to dominate the royal-baby conversation going forward: Will the child have a royal title? (This will be decided by the baby’s great-grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II.) If so, where will the child be in the order of succession? (Seventh.) Will the baby hold dual nationality, and if so, will he be required to pay U.S. taxes? (Possibly!)

“The arrival of Baby Sussex will indeed be a distraction—especially since this is being unusually handled,” Richard Fitzwilliams, a commentator on royal affairs, told me ahead of the child’s birth, adding: “It’s lasted for such a long time already, and now we’ve got into a state where week by week, there’s so many unprecedented votes in the House of Commons [related to Brexit], and so many question marks [about the nature of Britain’s exit from the EU], and no one has the faintest idea what’s going to happen. So with the baby, you’ve got something to cheer.”