One of the unexpected delights of 2019 was Netflix’s lavish dramatised life of Queen Elizabeth, The Crown. As a Republican, it’s the last thing I thought I would ever watch. But I was hooked from the start.

I couldn’t resist being drawn into the mysteries of palace life – the codes, the traditions, the high politics. It was brilliant public relations for the royal family. I found myself indulging in a new respect for Her Majesty herself, if not the institution.

Mrs Windsor has done a pretty good job in her six-and-a-bit decades on the throne, not just representing Britain but negotiating the dismantling of the British Empire in the 1950s and 60s. Say what you like about Britain’s colonial past, but nothing became the Empire so much as the ending of it.

She had the wisdom to realise, in the 1960s, that to make the monarchy relevant, and justify the prodigious amounts of public money spent on its upkeep, there had to be a quid pro quo.

The “Firm”, as she calls it, had to be seen to be “giving something back” through intense charitable activity and the grind of diplomatic intercourse. And, of course, simply “being there” for the opening of bridges and hospitals, and for moments of national tragedy, like Aberfan.

But the Queen is a product of a bygone age of deference, of patronage, of noblesse oblige. She embodies the virtues of duty, hard work and responsibility that defined the post-war ruling classes.

These are anachronistic qualities in the age of celebrity. We now have an alternative royalty in the form of internet stars like the Kardashians, and Beyonce. This world has long held a fatal attraction to minor members of the royal brood, who aspire to the elite lifestyle while lacking the means.

Such has been the rather tawdry fate of Harry and Meghan. Megxit, and the disintegration of the Sussexes’ public image, would make a whole season of The Crown. Their departure from “senior” royal life has absolutely nothing to do with duty and everything to do with worldly avarice.

They clearly want to remain in the public eye, their celebrity wedding guest list confirmed that. They believe they can make a lot of money as influencers and sponsors. But they have found the duties and responsibilities of being part of the royal family uncongenial.

In the words of Queen – the pop group that is – they want to break free. To which the British public says: fine. Do what you gotta to do. Polls show that the British public wish the Sussexes well in their new life.

However, the deal is that if they want to escape the paparazzi and the responsibilities of royalty, they must also give up its privileges. They must give up their royal titles and stop consuming vast amounts of public money.

The renovation of their grace-and-favour home, Frogmore Cottage, cost the taxpayer £2.4 million. Their security costs around £600,000 a year. They receive millions from the revenues of royal estates, via Harry’s dad, Prince Charles.

The financial taps should be turned off. There is no need, since Harry’s personal fortune is estimated at £30m and Meghan is also wealthy. To most of us this seems self-evident. And you’d expect Labour to be calling them out most loudly.

The default position of the left used to be contempt for the flummery and waste of the royal family. They consume millions of pounds of public money that could be better used for foodbanks. The monarchy is regarded, rightly, as a feudal anachronism, the apex of privilege.

But some Labour MPs, especially BAME ones, like Clive Lewis, seem to regard the Sussexes as a special kind of royalty. Far from condemning the behaviour of these soon-to-be ex-royals, they’ve been leaping to their defence. Meghan Markle is being portrayed as a victim rather than a social parasite. A victim of a racist media and a bigoted society.

In a furious piece in the New York Times, The Guardian columnist Afua Hirsch blamed deeply ingrained British racism for Meghan’s decision to ditch the Firm. “Her treatment,” she wrote, “has proved what many of us have always known ... in this society racism will still follow you.”

Social media is fizzing with indignation at the allegedly racist treatment of Meghan. Oprah Winfrey has been fanning the flames across the pond. Racism has driven poor Meghan to seek refuge in Toronto.

There is actually very little evidence of racism in the media treatment of Markle. The oft-quoted headline, “she was nearly straight out of Compton”, may have been silly and wrong, but it wasn’t racist. The social and family background of a new member of the royal family is a legitimate matter of public interest.

The instant sacking of disc jockey Danny Baker after his “monkey” tweet shows just how intolerant of racism the UK media has become. Criticism of Harry and Meghan’s hypocrisy in lecturing on the environment while relying on private jets is not racist.

In the Sussexes’ resignation epistle there is no mention of racism. They clearly don’t like their treatment by the press. But their court actions against the media are about phone hacking and copyright, not race.

Meghan Markle was lionised by the press when she arrived on the scene three years ago. The media was fascinated and enchanted by this woke princess who was bringing the stuffy royal family into the 21st century.

The coverage in all newspapers was little short of adulatory. Her feminism was widely praised; she adorned the front page of Vogue; her wedding had the full 36-inside-pages treatment.

Meghan’s arrival was seen as a significant moment in the progress towards equality and diversity in Britain. Her departure comes as a blow to minority groups which saw her as a torch-bearer for anti-racism and anti-sexism. As a royal she had a unique platform; now she is just another self-obsessed celebrity.

And the royals’ behaviour following the Epstein scandal is a serious blow to The Firm. It is clear that the monarchy, as it stands, is no longer viable. It will have to downsize to immunise itself from scandals like this in future.

Questions about the anachronistic constitutional role of the Queen can no longer be avoided.

She is head of state, a formal role of course, but one that nearly became highly political during the Brexit crisis last year. There was a real possibility that the Queen might have had to decide whether or not to endorse a caretaker prime minister.

This monarch should be the last to have any formal role in the constitution. The Crown should no longer be seen as above politics. The hereditary principle should play no part in our democracy.

It goes without saying that there’s no place for royalty in Scotland. The Scottish National Party needs to reassess its historical support for the Queen. Alex Salmond called her the “Queen of Scots”, and the 2013 White Paper envisaged a role for the monarch in Scotland after independence. This is surely no longer tenable.

If Scotland is to become independent, there should be no question of a hereditary head of state. And there is surely no place for celebrity airheads like the Sussexes.