Ahead of leaders’ retreat, Theresa May makes clear that UK backs Prince Charles as next symbolic leader of organisation
Commonwealth leaders could decide this week on who takes over from the Queen as head of the organisation, Downing Street has said.
The news came as Theresa May prepared to address her fellow national leaders on Tuesday. The prime minister is expected to urge the Commonwealth to engage and inspire the next generation, and to pledge £212m to help a million girls get a better education.
She also made clear the UK backed Prince Charles to be the new head of the Commonwealth. The position was passed from his grandfather to his mother but is not hereditary.
May’s spokesman said Charles had proven a “proud supporter of the Commonwealth for four decades and has spoken passionately about the organisation’s unique diversity”.
No 10 said: “Succession is a matter for the Commonwealth as a whole to determine. If any discussion did take place it would happen at the leaders’ retreat at Windsor on Friday. Decisions in the Commonwealth are made by consensus.”
Commonwealth leaders are gathering in London for an executive session on Thursday, before a retreat at the castle.
The organisation’s secretary general, Patricia Scotland, said the retreat was a chance for the leaders to talk one to one without outside interference.
“On the retreat, the 53 leaders get to go away together with no agenda and just talk about all the things that they desire to talk about. That enables them to deal with some quite tricky, sensitive issues, but collectively, collegiately and as part of the family,” she said.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, had suggested on BBC television on Sunday that the figurehead role could go to a rotating president. “The Queen clearly is personally very committed to the Commonwealth but after her I think maybe it’s a time to say, well, actually the Commonwealth should decide who its own president is on a rotational basis.”
Queen Elizabeth, who is 91, has been the symbolic head of the Commonwealth since 1952. Charles is heir to the throne in 16 of the 53 Commonwealth member states, which are chiefly territories that used to be part of the former British empire.
In her speech on Tuesday, May is expected to warn that a failure to engage and inspire the next generation will see the Commonwealth dismissed as “an irrelevance”. She will say she is “confident about our chances of success” in building a “bright future” for the organisation.
In front of an audience expected to include the Microsoft founder, philanthropist and anti-malaria campaigner Bill Gates, May is expected to pledge the money towards making sure children living in developing Commonwealth countries receive 12 years of quality education. She will also call on leaders to commit to halving levels of malaria by 2023.