Queen to miss Commonwealth meeting

 

Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma: "The leaders will all completely understand"

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For the first time since 1973 the Queen will not be attending the Commonwealth heads of government meeting this year, Buckingham Palace has said.

She will be represented by the Prince of Wales at the summit in Sri Lanka in November.

Buckingham Palace said it was reviewing the amount of long-haul travel the Queen undertook.

The Queen, 87, is the head of the Commonwealth and every two years leaders meet to discuss global issues.

The Queen was first present at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting (Chogm) in Ottawa, Canada, in 1973 - missing the first one in 1971 - and has been at every summit since. The last one, in 2011, was held in Perth, Australia.

'Transition'

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: "I can confirm the Queen will be represented by the Prince of Wales.

"The reason is that we are reviewing the amount of long-haul travel that is taken by the Queen."

This is a significant decision for the Queen and for her eldest son and heir.

The 87-year-old monarch won't have arrived at it lightly - she hasn't missed a heads of government meeting since 1973 and she regards the Commonwealth as an important dimension of her reign.

It is an acknowledgement of her advancing age and not, her officials insist, in order to avoid the political question about whether or not Sri Lanka should be the host in the first place.

The focus of campaigners, who are critical of Colombo's human rights record, will now be the Prince of Wales.

Behind the scenes, the ground has been prepared for him to become the organisation's next head - a position he's not automatically entitled to.

His attendance, in November, in place of his mother, will be another very visible sign of his preparation for kingship.

BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt said the Queen would not have taken the decision lightly and it was both surprising and significant.

He said it was a significant moment for the Prince of Wales and it was also a symbolic move.

"It is about transition, about preparing this country for an elderly head of state who will be able to do less and less," he said.

"There is no intention of abdication. It will just not happen during her reign. It is the palace addressing the practicalities of her advancing age - you will see less of her and more of him."

It is expected that Prince Charles will be joined by the Duchess of Cornwall at the summit in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, he added.

By stepping in for the Queen, Prince Charles will be performing one of his most significant duties to date as a future King.

He has never before attended in place of the monarch at the two-yearly gathering of Commonwealth leaders. In 2007, both the Prince and the Queen attended Chogm in Uganda.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the Queen's decision was "entirely understandable" and did not reflect any decrease in her commitment to the Commonwealth.

He said: "I think we should all pay tribute to the incredible work that Her Majesty has done over six decades in support of the Commonwealth. I know that she is as passionate about the Commonwealth today as she has ever been."

Politically tricky

The Queen was forced to cancel her appearance in March at the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey, the first time the monarch had missed the occasion in 20 years.

Key summits the Queen has attended

Queen Elizabeth during the opening ceremony of the 2002 Chogm in Queensland, Australia.
  • Gleneagles 1977: Sporting contacts with South Africa "discouraged" but not banned in protest against Apartheid
  • Lusaka 1979: Commonwealth united by aim to "to rid the world of the evils of racism". Apartheid further condemned as an "affront to humanity"
  • Langkawi 1989: Declaration warned of "permanent and irreversible damage" caused by greenhouse gases, calling for more "sustainable" environmental policies in response to the risk
  • Harare 1991: Human rights and democracy were central to the declaration, issued at Chogm, chaired by Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe. Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth in 2002 for failing to adhere to the principles of the declaration signed on its soil
  • Perth 2011: The principle that male heirs should succeed to the British throne ahead of elder female siblings, or male primogeniture, was abandoned

It was one of a number of engagements she cancelled after being admitted to hospital suffering from the symptoms of gastroenteritis.

The Queen is the Commonwealth's symbolic head and has no formal powers over the 54 countries and two billion citizens which make up the voluntary association.

Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma said the "family of nations completely understands and respects" the Queen's decision.

"The presence of the Prince of Wales at our Commonwealth gathering will carry forward Her Majesty's outstanding record of enduring commitment and diligent service as head of the Commonwealth," he said.

Concerns have been raised about the choice of Sri Lanka as the host nation for the 2013 summit.

Campaigners including Amnesty International are calling for the Chogm meeting not to take place there before an investigation is carried out into human rights abuses in the final six months of the 26-year Sri Lankan civil war.

Britain is facing pressure to lead a boycott of the meeting, with Canada's government indicating it will not attend unless specific criteria are met.

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said he hoped Mr Cameron would "think again" about his decision to attend the summit "given the very serious and continuing allegations in relation to human rights".

He told Channel 4 News: "I think he should be using the coming months between now and November to be very clear to the Sri Lankans that unless we see substantive change then he, along with the Canadian and other governments, I hope, will give very serious consideration to boycotting this summit."

Buckingham Palace said the Queen's decision was not related to the political situation.

"The key point here is that the Queen will be represented, although she is not there in person, by the Prince of Wales," a spokesman said.

 

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  • rate this
    +94

    Comment number 58.

    HM is wonderful. When she ascended the throne, she vowed to dedicate her life to the UK and all commonwealth countries. Not many people keep their word as consistently as she has.
    She is just being sensible in not flying to Sri Lanka and she is also giving Charles a taste of what life will be for him when he finally reaches the throne.

  • rate this
    -90

    Comment number 48.

    I know the gracious Lady has said that she will never abdicate, but Her absences from events are increasing. Wouldn't it be sensible for the Queen, and our country, if she was to take her well deserved retirement? As a republican, it doesn't look good having the CEO of UK plc. regularly missing events.

  • rate this
    -118

    Comment number 41.

    Its time for this fine lady to show that she has dignity and respect for her subjects.

    She should gracefully retire and leave every commonwealth country as a republic.

  • rate this
    +111

    Comment number 21.

    It's hardly surprising that the Queen is starting to slow down a bit - she's 87! There aren't many women of her age who do the amount of work she does. She has been an absolute credit to the UK and the Commonwealth.

    It's high time Prince Charles took a more prominent role, the Queen can't last forever, and maybe some of the younger members of the Royal family could do a bit more too.

 
 

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