Leaders approve Prince Charles to succeed queen as Commonwealth head

Prince Charles receiving Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah at Buckingham Palace in London on April 19, 2018.
Prince Charles receiving Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah at Buckingham Palace in London on April 19, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - Prince Charles was approved as the successor to Queen Elizabeth II as head of the Commonwealth at a meeting of the group's heads of government in Windsor on Friday (April 20).

"We recognise the role of the Queen in championing the Commonwealth and its peoples," the Commonwealth leaders said in a statement.

"The next head of the Commonwealth shall be His Royal Highness Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales."

There have been calls for the role to be rotated around the 53 member-states, most of which are former British territories, but in recent days the Queen, 91, the British government and other leaders have backed Charles, 69.

The Commonwealth evolved out of the British empire in the mid-20th century, and the Queen has been its head since her reign began in 1952. Charles had long been expected to take on the role even though it is not strictly hereditary.

Queen Elizabeth on Thursday told leaders from the 53 member states that she wanted her eldest son to succeed her in the symbolic figurehead role. 

The succession issue was due to be discussed at the final day of the meeting, when leaders travelled 30km outside London for private meetings at the Queen’s Windsor Castle home. 

This week’s Commonwealth summit has seen thousands of delegates from across the globe descend on London, debating issues such as the environment, women’s rights and trade. It ends later on Friday, when British Prime Minister Theresa May is due to speak. 

Britain has sought to use its hosting of the event as a chance to reinvigorate the loose alliance of countries, which have a combined population of 2.4 billion people, eyeing increased trade and global influence as it prepares to leave the European Union. 

But the summit has been overshadowed by the embarrassing treatment of Caribbean migrants who came to Britain after World War II to help rebuild the country, but have been caught up in a tightening of immigration rules. 

The biennial meeting, taking place in Britain for the first time in 20 years, could be the last attended by the 91-year-old Queen as she cuts back on some of her official duties. Prince Charles represented her at the 2013 summit in Colombo.

The next summit is due to be held in Malaysia in 2020. 

Queen Elizabeth, who turns 92 on Saturday, spoke of her own “extraordinary journey” since pledging to serve the Commonwealth for life when aged 21. 

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

Queen Elizabeth has been the Commonwealth’s symbolic figurehead since her father King George VI’s death in 1952.  Some republican voices had been angling for change in future. 

British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, head of the Labour Party, said on Sunday that the role could go to a rotating presidency.  But Mrs May gave her backing to the 69-year-old Prince Charles. 

“The government supports the Prince of Wales as the next head of the Commonwealth. He has been a proud supporter of the Commonwealth for more than four decades,” her spokesman said. 

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau said: “I very much agree with the wishes of Her Majesty that the Prince of Wales be the next head of the Commonwealth.”

Maltese PM Joseph Muscat added: “We are certain that when he will be called upon to do so, he will provide a solid and passionate leadership for our Commonwealth.”

And Grenada’s Prime Minister Keith Mitchell told the BBC: “It would be good news. Having the Prince of Wales would certainly not be an unhelpful act at this point in time.”