The Prince of Wales will one day succeed the Queen to become the next Head of Commonwealth, it was confirmed on Friday night, after leaders reached an agreement to honour Her Majesty’s “vision, duty and steadfast service” to the institution.
"I am deeply touched and honoured by the decision of Commonwealth Heads of State and Government that I should succeed The Queen, in due course, as Head of the Commonwealth,” he said.
“Meanwhile, I will continue to support Her Majesty in every possible way, in the service of our unique family of nations."
Theresa May, the Prime Minister, announced the decision from the 53 Commonwealth Heads of Government after private deliberations at Windsor Castle on Friday.
There, presidents and prime ministers from across the world convened to finalise plans for the future of the Commonwealth, enjoying the hospitality of the Queen’s home at the end of a week which has seen senior members of the Royal Family out in force.
Nana Akufo-Addo, President of Ghana, said the decision to make the Prince of Wales the next honorary leader was reached by “strong consensus”, while Theresa May insisted it was unanimous.
The Prime Minister of Grenada, Keith Mitchell, said he had been convinced the decision was a good one thanks to his belief that the young men of the Commonwealth need a strong male role model.
HRH The Prince of Wales: "I am deeply touched and honoured by the decision of Commonwealth Heads of State and Government that I should succeed The Queen, in due course, as Head of the Commonwealth....(1/2) pic.twitter.com/mRy3oujsxd— Clarence House (@ClarenceHouse) April 20, 2018
The decision is a one-off, with Prince William, Prince George and future heirs not automatically in line to be awarded the non-hereditary position.
Speaking at a press conference after the retreat, Mrs May said that the Commonwealth itself exists in “no small measure because the vision, duty and steadfast service of her majesty in nurturing the growth of this remarkable family of nations”.
“On behalf of all our citizens I want to express the gratitude for everything Her Majesty has done and will continue to do,” she said.
“Today we have agreed that the next head of the commonwealth will be His Royal Highness Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales.
“His Royal Highness has been a proud supporter of the Commonwealth for more than four decades and has spoken passionately about the organisation’s unique diversity. “It is fitting that he will one day continue the work of his mother, Her Majesty the Queen.”
The announcement followed a concerted effort on the part of the Royal Family this week, beginning with Prince Harry and culminating in a speech from the Queen herself.
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On Monday, Prince Harry had embarked on work as the newly-appointed Commonwealth Youth Ambassador to emphasise the family’s ties with the Commonwealth, paying tribute to his grandmother's long service and his father's foresight on issues such as climate change.
His brother, the Duke of Cambridge, swiftly followed, welcoming CHOGM delegates by warning them they would be “seeing a lot of the Royal Family” during the week with a twinkle in his eye.
"For us in the Royal Family, supporting The Queen who has dedicated her life loyally and without fail to the Commonwealth is an enormous honour,” he said.
On Tuesday, the Prince of Wales began his own work at the CHOGM forums, regaling attendees with his fond memories of his visits to each of their countries, and spending time with Prime Minister Narendra Modi admiring an exhibition about India at the Science Museum.
Prince Charles - Dimbleby comment
While the combined efforts of the princes were no doubt appreciated, the Queen left nothing to chance.
On Thursday, as she spoke at the official opening of CHOGM at Buckingham Palace, she made a heartfelt address spelling out for the first time her hopes for the future of the Commonwealth, and offering her full support to her son.
“It remains a great pleasure and honour to serve you as Head of the Commonwealth and to observe, with pride and satisfaction, that this is a flourishing network,” she told the assembled heads,” she said.
"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.”
While it was understood that the Prince’s position as future Head of Commonwealth has been quietly decided for some time, the Queen’s public words had a galvanising effect on world leaders.
In the same ceremony, Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister of Malta, said of the Prince: "We are certain that, when he will be called upon to do so, he will provide solid and passionate leadership for our Commonwealth."
Later that day, Malcolm Turnbull, the Australian Prime Minister, confirmed his country “strongly supports the continuation of the king or queen of the United Kingdom as the head of the Commonwealth.” "Prince Charles in time will succeed his mother,” he added.
"The head of the Commonwealth, which is a ceremonial role, a role of honour rather than one of political authority, that role I think should continue, and this is the very widespread view, with the Queen's successor."
Speaking to press, Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, said: "I very much agree with the wishes of Her Majesty that the Prince of Wales be the next head of the Commonwealth."
And Ralph Regenvanu, the foreign minister of the Pacific state of Vanuatu, disclosed: "We see it almost naturally that it should be the British royal family because it is the Commonwealth after all".
Others had expressed frustration that the issue had overshadowed more important discussions.
Tevita Tu'i Uata, Tonga's trade minister, told ITV News that people in his country "are drowning" due to rising sea levels, saying: "Maybe sorting out who is going to lead the Commonwealth maybe also an issue, but it's not as pressing an issue to [Tonga] as taking care of climate change."
From today, the Prince is expected to represent the Queen in the honorary role at future Commonwealth meetings, the next of which will take place in Rwanda in 2020.
He has previously attended the meeting four times, in Edinburgh in 1997, Uganda in 2007, Sri Lanka in 2013 and Malta in 2015 when he appeared with the Queen.
Since 1969, The Prince has visited 44 Commonwealth countries. In the last year, he has travelled to Australia, Vanuatu, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and India.