Queen suggests Prince Charles should be next Commonwealth head

Wish expressed as leaders of member states meet in London for biennial two-day summit

The Queen has expressed her desire for Prince Charles to succeed her as the leader of the Commonwealth, voicing her views the day before top government officials from the 53-nation body meet at Windsor Castle to discuss the issue.

Her unusually candid declaration was made at what will almost certainly be her last attendance at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting (CHOGM) as she welcomed presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers to the two-day biennial summit at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

“It is my sincere wish that the Commonwealth will continue to offer stability and continuity to future generations and will decide one day the Prince of Wales should carry on the important work started by my father in 1949,” she said.

Decision day, according to Downing Street officials this week, is likely to be on Friday, when the leaders retreat to Windsor Castle in Berkshire without aides or advisers present to mull over issues confronting the organisation, not least the vexed question of its next leader.

The position is not hereditary and not automatically held by a British monarch, and there has been speculation for years over whether Charles would become its titular head. It seems unlikely Commonwealth leaders will defy such a directly expressed wish of their host, especially the day before the Queen’s 92nd birthday on Saturday.

The Queen, who presides over the summit but does not take part in discussions, revealed her hand at the first CHOGM to be held in London for 32 years. As she no longer goes abroad, the current summit will almost certainly be her last. Charles has represented her at recent CHOGMs.

A 53-gun salute in London’s Green Park marked the formal opening of the gatheringwith a ceremony in the ballroom at Buckingham Palace. Forty-six government leaders from the 53 nations attended, along with foreign ministers. They arrived in motorcades driven on to the palace forecourt where they were greeted by a guard of honour formed by the Coldstream Guards, whose officers and soldiers lined up in their scarlet tunics and bearskins.

The flags of all of the Commonwealth’s 53 member states were flown, as senior royals including Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall, Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, turned out to greet them.

Pakistan’s prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, with Prince Charles at Clarence House, London, on 19 April.
Pakistan’s prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, with Prince Charles at Clarence House, London. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AFP/Getty Images

Inside the ballroom the opening ceremony was hosted by the BBC presenter Reeta Chakrabarti. The singer Emeli Sandé sang the national anthem and a group of Commonwealth singers performed Natasha Bedingfield’s song Unwritten.

The prime minister, Theresa May, paid tribute to the Queen. “Over many years you have been the Commonwealth’s most steadfast and fervent champions,” she said.

Charles had earlier addressed leaders and highlighted his Commonwealth credentials. “For my part, the Commonwealth has been a fundamental feature of my life for as long as I can remember, beginning with my first visit to Malta when I was just five years old,” he said.

“I pray that this Commonwealth heads of government meeting will not only revitalise the bonds between our countries, but will also give the Commonwealth a renewed relevance to all citizens, finding practical solutions to their problems and giving life to their aspirations.

“By doing so, the Commonwealth can be a cornerstone for the lives of future generations, just as it has been for so many of us.”

Joseph Muscat, Malta’s prime minister and the Commonwealth’s chair-in-office, hinted at rubber stamping the Queen’s wish for her son to succeed her when he becomes king. He told delegates of the vigour with which Charles participated in Commonwealth affairs.

“We are certain that, when he will be called upon to do so, he will provide solid and passionate leadership for our Commonwealth,” he said

The prime minister of Grenada, Keith Mitchell, said he had no difficulty with Charles taking over. “It would be good news, the Queen herself does very well and certainly we have been fortunate to have her stable leadership over this period. But having the Prince of Wales would certainly not be an unhelpful act at this point in time,” he told the BBC’s World at One.

Charles later joined the Queen for a lunchtime reception in the palace’s 1844 Room, held for new government leaders including New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa.

Welcoming delegates, Theresa May spoke of the shared values of the Commonwealth, the challenges of climate change, the health of the oceans, trade and cyber security. There was no mention of the issue that has dominated headlines since the Commonwealth leaders arrived in the UK – Britain’s treatment of the Windrush generation.

During the summit leaders will be urged to follow the UK work in reducing plastic waste in the seas. The UK is due to consult on proposals to ban plastic straws and cotton buds as part of effforts to tackle the pollution issue.

May said she would rally member states. “The Commonwealth is a unique organisation with a huge diversity of wildlife, environments and coastlines,” she said.

The Queen told delegates: “It remains a great pleasure and honour to serve you as head of the Commonwealth and to observe, with pride and satisfaction, that this is a flourishing network.”


Caroline Davies

The GuardianTramp

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