In a rare intervention into the workings of the Commonwealth, the Queen has urged Commonwealth leaders to name her son, Prince Charles, to succeed her as head of the organization.
“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 started by my father in 1949,” the Queen said as she opened the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit at Buckingham Palace on Thursday.
The Queen was named head of the Commonwealth when she became monarch in 1952, taking over the title from her father, King George VI. But the ceremonial role is not hereditary and it’s up to Commonwealth leaders to decide who will replace her. The Queen turns 92 on Saturday and this is expected to be the last time she attends the biennial gathering of Commonwealth leaders since she no longer travels outside Britain. There has been some controversy about whether Prince Charles would take over when, as expected, he becomes king. Some British politicians have been skeptical about his leadership, saying it’s time for a younger and more dynamic leader. However, now that the Queen has stated her preference, it’s unlikely anyone else will be chosen.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who hosted the previous leaders’ meeting, told reporters on Thursday that the summit will likely confirm Prince Charles as successor. The Prince of Wales “will provide solid and passionate leadership for our Commonwealth,” he said. Joe Zasada, chair of the Royal Commonwealth Society of Canada, said the Queen has provided a strong example for her son and other royals to follow through her commitment to the Commonwealth. “I think Charles would do a good job,” he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also backed Prince Charles taking over once he becomes king. “I very much agree with the wishes of her majesty that the Prince of Wales be the next head of the Commonwealth,” Mr. Trudeau said Thursday
During her speech on Thursday, the Queen sang the praises of the Commonwealth, saying that, “put simply, we are one of the world’s great convening powers: a global association of volunteers who believe in the tangible benefits that flow from exchanging ideas and experiences and respecting each other’s point of view.” She added that her father held the first Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting at Buckingham Palace in 1949, when the association launched with just eight members. “Who then – or in 1952, when I became Head of the Commonwealth – would have guessed that a gathering of its member states would one day number 53, or that it would comprise 2.4 billion people?”
The two-day leaders meeting will focus on trade, security and human rights. Mr. Trudeau is also expected to hold several side meetings with leaders.
However, it has gotten off to a rocky start for the host, British Prime Minister Theresa May. Her government has been hit with a scandal involving migrants from the Caribbean who were encouraged to come to Britain after the Second World War to help rebuild the country, but then ran into fierce racism after they arrived. Known as the Windrush generation, because of the boat they travelled on, many have recently learned that they have no official immigration papers and cannot receive medical treatment or other services. The government has been under attack after it emerged this week that in 2010, officials destroyed thousands of immigration landing cards recording Windrush arrivals. Ms. May has apologized and the government has set up a team to help resolve the issue, which has been raised by some Commonwealth leaders.
LGBT rights protesters have also gathered outside the meeting to criticize the Commonwealth’s lack of progress. Of the 53 member countries, 37 have strict anti-gay legislation in place. The issue has been a problem for the Commonwealth for years since it is a voluntary organization that acts on consensus. The topic of LGBT rights was also dropped from the agenda of the leaders meeting this year, although Ms. May raised it earlier this week in reference to Britain. “I am all too aware that these laws were often put in place by my own country,” she said. “They were wrong then, and they are wrong now.”