Britain’s Queen Elizabeth said in the meeting she hoped her son and heir Prince Charles would take on leadership of the Commonwealth, answering some who argue the position should be rotated around member states.
Her highly significant speech met with warm applause is the most explicit statement she has made to date of her hopes for the Commonwealth’s future, and the honorary and not hereditary position of its head.
In an unusually explicit statement of her views, she told the presidents and prime ministers of the Commonwealth: “It remains a great pleasure and honor to serve you as Head of the Commonwealth and to observe, with pride and satisfaction, that this is a flourishing network.
“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 Prince of Wales’ bid to one day accede to his mother’s Commonwealth role is due to be discussed at a private CHOGM retreat at Windsor on Friday, but is now widely considered a foregone conclusion.
Two years ago, speaking at the last CHOGM in Malta, the Queen offered a hint to her feelings, saying she could not have been “better supported and represented in the Commonwealth than by The Prince of Wales who continues to give so much to it with great distinction”.
Today, at the start of the London summit, she told an audience: “When I meet the young leaders of this century, I remember my own life-long commitment – made in South Africa in 1947 at the age of 21.
“As another birthday approaches this week, I am reminded of the extraordinary journey we have been on, and how much good has been achieved.”
Saying that “my family and I have been heartened” by the successful Commonwealth programmes “in which we are proud to play a part,” she added: “Here at Buckingham Palace in 1949, my father met the Heads of Government when they ratified the London Declaration, which created the Commonwealth as we know it today – then comprising just eight nations.
“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?
“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.
“And we seem to be growing stronger year by year. The advantages are plain to see.”
Theresa May, the Prime Minister, received prolonged applause after addressing the Queen directly, saying: “This week you have opened your homes to us – here in London and in Windsor. Over many years you have been the Commonwealth’s most steadfast and fervent champion.
“You have been true to the deepest values of the Commonwealth – that the voice of the smallest member country is worth precisely as much as that of the largest; that the wealthiest and the most vulnerable stand shoulder to shoulder.
The world leaders and the Queen pose for the traditional Commonwealth “family” photo.