LONDON — World leaders backed Prince Charles on Friday to one day succeed his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, as head of the Commonwealth.
Prince Charles, 69, the queen’s eldest son and heir to the throne, was considered the hot favorite for the role as leader of the Commonwealth, a global network of 53 nations that has a combined population of 2.4 billion.
“Today we have agreed that the next head of the Commonwealth shall be his royal highness Prince Charles,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said Friday evening after a day of talks with Commonwealth leaders at Windsor Castle.
Unlike his future role as king, this one wasn't automatically in the bag. The head of the Commonwealth is not hereditary title, and some have argued that the leadership of the Commonwealth is too Britain-centric. Others said it would make more sense for the title to be held on a rotating basis.
May, however, said that world leaders agreed that Prince Charles, a “proud supporter” of the Commonwealth, should follow his mother at the group’s helm. “It is fitting that one day he will continue the work of his mother,” she said.
The queen, who is said to take great pride in the Commonwealth, made it explicit for the first time who she was backing.
On Thursday, during her remarks from Buckingham Palace that formally opened the two-day Commonwealth Heads of Government summit, the queen said that it was her “sincere wish” that “one day the Prince of Wales should carry on the important work started by my father in 1949.”
When asked about who he would like to see as the queen’s successor, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said at a news conference Thursday that he “very much” agreed with the queen.
The queen, who turns 92 Saturday, is often said to be the glue that holds together the Commonwealth, which includes big countries such as India, population 1.3 billion, and small ones like Nauru, population 13,000. When she became leader of the Commonwealth in 1952, the organization had eight nations. The club has expanded over the past decades, but it has struggled to define its purpose. Over the past two days, its leaders discussed issues including climate change, cyberwarfare and trade.
Britain, which is hoping to secure new trade deals after it leaves the European Union, did not hold back on the pomp and ceremony during the summit, which included events at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.
The appointment of Prince Charles came as he was entangled in controversy after he asked a nonwhite British journalist at a Commonwealth event where she was from.
When Anita Sethi said “Manchester,” Prince Charles reportedly responded: “Well, you don’t look like it.”
“That the mooted next leader of an organisation that represents one-third of the people on the planet commented that I, a brown woman, did not look as if I was from a city in the UK is shocking,” she wrote in the Guardian.
The exchange comes amid a growing controversy in Britain about immigration and British identity.
On Tuesday, May personally apologized to Caribbean leaders who were in London for the Commonwealth summit after it emerged that some from the “Windrush generation” were being denied health benefits and threatened with deportation because they could not provide the proper paperwork to prove they had the right to reside here — some of which the government itself destroyed.
After World War II, Britain invited people from the British Caribbean to settle there and help rebuild the country. They were called the Windrush generation after the Empire Windrush ship that brought over the first wave of migrants.
On Friday, May said that Britain would consider financial compensation to “resolve anxieties and problems which some of the Windrush generation have suffered.”
“These people are British, they are part of us, they helped to build Britain, and we are all the stronger for their contributions,” she said.