Week Ahead: Harry and Meghan’s final official Royal engagement looms

Subject to the response to the growing spread of coronavirus in the UK, a big few days awaits in the world of politics and sport. Chris Burn looks at the Week Ahead.

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex attend The Endeavour Fund Awards at Mansion House on March 05, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

TIME TO SAY GOODBYE?

On Monday afternoon, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will be joining the Queen and the rest of the Royal Family at the Commonwealth Day Service at Westminster Abbey.

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It will be Harry and Meghan’s first appearance with the royals since their Megxit announcement, but it is believed that it could also be their final official engagement before they quit royal duties on March 31.

Rishi Sunak will be delivering his first Budget. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

In the evening the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall will be guests of the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, at the annual Commonwealth reception at Marlborough House.

On what will be a busy day for the Royals, The Duchess of Cambridge will also be hosting a Gala Dinner in celebration of child mental health charity Place2Be’s 25th anniversary at Buckingham Palace.

SUNAK STEPS UP

Yorkshire MP Rishi Sunak has already had a dramatic ascent since being elected as the Conservative representative for Richmond in 2015 but the 39-year-old will face the biggest moment of his political career on Wednesday as the new Chancellor delivers his first Budget.

The former investment banker faces a tricky task in delivering on promises for increased spending in areas such as the NHS and police while also sticking to the Conservative election manifesto commitments not to increase income tax, national insurance or VAT.

His predecessor Sajid Javid also set a fiscal target of balancing spending by 2022 - something which the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said will not be possible without increasing taxes.

Later this week, the spring party conference season will get under way in Yorkshire, with the Liberal Democrats beginning a three-day conference on Friday in York.

UNDER STARTER’S ORDERS

The world of horse racing is holding its collective breath that coronavirus does not scupper the four-day Cheltenham Festival which begins on Tuesday.

Jump racing’s showcase meeting of the year, it famously had to be abandoned in 2001 because of the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

But racing officials are confident 60,000 spectators will still gather each day in the shadow of Cleeve Hill where the main Yorkshire hopes are likely to be Lady Buttons, Vintage Clouds, Midnight Shadow and Cornerstone Lad, the latter due to line up in Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle.

BBC BOSSES UNDER SCRUTINY

With the future of the licence fee under question, evidence from the BBC’s director-general Lord Hall and chairman Sir David Clementi to MPs on Thursday about the corporation’s future is certain to make headlines.

The pair will be speaking to members of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport Committee, with the session expected to cover developments such as Lord Hall’s decision to step down early, plans to cut 450 journalist jobs and changes to the licence fee for over-75s.

Last week, Lord Hall hit back at suggestions that the BBC is redundant following the rise of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.

The licence fee model means that “you’ve got to give something to everybody. I think that is a fantastic creative challenge”, he told a conference.

“I hope we are developing and continuing to develop a much warmer relationship with the British public which is less the ‘Auntie’ of two or three decades ago and much more something which is interwoven in people’s lives,” he added.

The Government is consulting on proposals to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee and ministers have suggested it could be abolished altogether when the BBC’s charter comes up for renewal.