Family of nations skips a generation ... for now
She has been head of the Commonwealth since she came to the throne, but who will succeed the Queen?
SHE HAS been its head since she came to the throne, as was her father before her, and its advancement has helped to define her reign.
But support for the Queen to pass on to her successor the stewardship of the organisation formerly known as the British Commonwealth appeared last night to be threadbare.
Instead, the Commonwealth of Nations – its official title since just after the war – skipped a generation as the spotlight moved to Prince Harry and the woman he will marry next month, inset. Appointed a Commonwealth Youth Ambassador by his grandmother, he helped open the forum which launched the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting yesterday, and said his fiancee Meghan Markle was “hugely excited” to be joining him.
But it is the organisation’s top billing that is uppermost on its agenda – and in particular whether the Prince of Wales – who two weeks ago opened the Commonwealth Games on his mother’s behalf – should succeed her as its head.
The symbolic position is not handed down automatically to the Queen’s successor, and both the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary suggested it should be left to the 53 member states to decide.
The Commonwealth has its roots in a declaration by the Earl of Balfour at the 1926 Imperial Conference of British Empire leaders. After the war, the British monarch was recognised as its head, and the Queen took it to her heart, promoting it in her first Christmas message following her coronation. But yesterday, both Clarence House and Downing Street were keeping their counsel over whether Charles would take over.
Theresa May’s official spokesman would say only that the decision was one for all leaders of Commonwealth states. They will discuss the issue when they gather for a retreat at Windsor Castle on Friday. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had earlier said the decision was “a matter for the 53”.
Meanwhile, Harry was telling the young delegates at the Commonwealth Youth Council that “it is you who are going to change the world”. He had been joined by Mrs May at a roundtable discussion, and both expressed their faith in the youth of the Family of Nations.
The audience cheered and whooped Harry when he mentioned his bride-to-be, who will join him tomorrow at a Youth Forum reception.
The Prince said: “In my new role, I will work to support the Queen, my father the Prince of Wales, and my brother William, all of whom know that young people are the answer to the challenges of today.
“I am also incredibly grateful that the woman I am about to marry, Meghan, will be joining me in this work, of which she too is hugely excited to take part in.”
Harry referenced his grandmother’s speech of 1947, in which she pledged her life to the Commonwealth.
He said: “On the day of her 21st birthday, the then-Princess Elizabeth gave an extraordinary radio address from Cape Town.
“With an eye on the future, and an already unflinching sense of duty, she made a commitment. She said that whether her life be long or short, it would be dedicated to the service of the people of the Commonwealth.
“All of us here today can be grateful that it is a long life the Queen is still enjoying. Her Majesty’s commitment has meant that the Commonwealth is a thriving family of nations, a common link between nearly two and a half billion people, and a defender of democracy, justice and peace.”
EYE TO THE FUTURE: Prince Harry and Prime Minister Theresa May attending the Commonwealth Youth Forum in London; Prince Charles, who will not automatically become head of the Commonwealth, in Australia; the Queen Down Under in 1954.