At the threshold of the Commonwealth summit, the Queen of England has conveyed a profoundly pregnant message to the assembled Heads of State and Government. When she urged world leaders last Friday to “one day choose Charles”, the Prince of Wales, to succeed her as head of the Commonwealth, the monarch, who celebrated her 92nd birthday on Saturday, publicly settled the succession issue, clothed with a statement of significance in the constitutional history of the United Kingdom.
Not least because the Queen’s public endorsement of her son is an unprecedented move. Thus has Queen Elizabeth II sought to end the prolonged speculation over who would helm Buckingham Palace and ipso facto the Commonwealth, indeed the institution that her father, King George VI, first led in the aftermath of World War II.
Her remarkably emphatic inaugural presentation in itself made it pretty obvious that despite her advancing years she is in a position to prescribe the terms of engament ~ “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.” Whether or not the Commonwealth has been effective need not detain us here. Suffice it to register that close to 70 years after its foundation, the Queen has crafted a new chapter in constitutional history, most importantly by taking the world leaders into confidence, including Prime Minister Theresa May.
The contours of the transition have not been confined to the palace. The Prime Minister of Malta, Dr Joseph Muscat, outgoing chair-in-office of the Commonwealth, has swiftly backed Charles as head of the entity, a gesture that confirms the certainty of the Prince’s future role.
There has been considerable speculation of late that the Queen is probably presiding over (in person) her last meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM). The venue for the biennial summit moves around the globe, with the UK only hosting it thrice over the past 32 years. Though the Queen has been head of the Commonwealth ever since she ascended the throne in 1952, the position is not automatically held by the British monarch.
There is little doubt that the venue of this year’s summit afforded an opportunity to the monarch to settle the CHOGM succession issue. In the context of the UK’s impending exit from the European Union, the Commonwealth ~ a concert of nations that were once part of the British Empire ~- is likely to become increasingly important in terms of trade opportunities for Britain. Markedly, Prince Charles has in recent years highlighted his affinity with the Commonwealth. As much was clear from his words of welcome ~ “For my part, the Commonwealth has been a fundamental feature of my life for as long as I can remember.”