No surprise: Charles to succeed queen as Commonwealth head

FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 28, 2007 file photo, Britain's Prince Charles enters the Harvard Club to receive the Global Environment Award from the Harvard Medical School in New York. (AP Photo/Stephen Chernin)
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sips on a drink as she delivers a speech at a dinner hosted by Queen Elizabeth II, during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at Buckingham Palace in London, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (Toby Melville/Pool Photo via AP)
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II delivers a speech during a dinner she hosted at Buckingham Palace in the week of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, (CHOGM), Thursday, April 19, 2018 in London. (Jack Taylor/Pool Photo via AP)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, front centre, leads other leaders of the Commonwealth nations through St George's hall at Windsor castle, during the CHOGM Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Windsor, England, Friday April 20, 2018. Leaders from the 53-nation Commonwealth nations are meeting in Windsor Castle Friday, without official agenda but are widely expected to discuss protecting the world's oceans, cybersecurity and who should become the next leader of the Commonwealth. (Ben Stansall/PA via AP)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leads other leaders of the Commonwealth nations through St George's hall at Windsor castle, during the CHOGM Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Windsor, England, Friday April 20, 2018. Leaders from the 53-nation Commonwealth nations are meeting in Windsor Castle Friday, without official agenda but are widely expected to discuss protecting the world's oceans, cybersecurity and who should become the next leader of the Commonwealth. (Ben Stansall/PA via AP)
Leader of Commonwealth countries arrive and walk past the round tower at Windsor Castle for the the second day of the Commonwealth Heads of Government 2018 for a behind closed doors meeting in Windsor, England, Friday, April 20, 2018. Leaders from the 53-nation Commonwealth nations are meeting in Windsor Castle Friday, without official agenda but are widely expected to discuss protecting the world's oceans, cybersecurity and who should become the next leader of the Commonwealth. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
British Grenadier Guards soldiers march as they go to change the guard at Windsor Castle as Commonwealth leaders arrive for the the second day of the Commonwealth Heads of Government 2018 for a behind closed doors meeting in Windsor, England, Friday, April 20, 2018. Leaders from the 53-nation Commonwealth nations are meeting in Windsor Castle Friday, without official agenda but are widely expected to discuss protecting the world's oceans, cybersecurity and who should become the next leader of the Commonwealth. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Britain's Prince Charles greets Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his wife Lucy in a receiving line for the Queen's Dinner for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) at Buckingham Palace in London, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, Pool)
British Prime Minister Theresa May, right, answers a question next to the Secretary General of the Commonwealth Baroness Scotland during the closing press conference for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) at Marlborough House in London, Friday, April 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
The Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern, left, talks to the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as they arrive for the the second day of the Commonwealth Heads of Government 2018 for a behind closed doors meeting in Windsor, England, Friday, April 20, 2018. Leaders from the 53-nation Commonwealth nations are meeting in Windsor Castle Friday, without official agenda but are widely expected to discuss protecting the world's oceans, cybersecurity and who should become the next leader of the Commonwealth. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles greet Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his wife Lucy in the Blue Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace as the Queen hosts a dinner during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, in London, Thursday April 19, 2018. (Victoria Jones/Pool Photo via AP)
Leaders of Commonwealth nation arrive for their CHOGM meeting at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Friday April 20, 2018. Leaders from left, Sierra Leone's Julius Maada Bio, Bangladesh's Sheikh Hasina, Britain's Theresa May, Malta's Joseph Muscat, and Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland. Leaders from the 53-nation Commonwealth nations are meeting in Windsor Castle Friday, without official agenda but are widely expected to discuss protecting the world's oceans, cybersecurity and who should become the next leader of the Commonwealth. (Andrew Matthews/PA via AP)
Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness, second left takes a picture on his smart phone as Britain's Theresa May third right looks back as Commonwealth leaders arrive for the the second day of the Commonwealth Heads of Government 2018 for a behind closed doors meeting in Windsor, England, Friday, April 20, 2018. Leaders from the 53-nation Commonwealth nations are meeting in Windsor Castle Friday, without official agenda but are widely expected to discuss protecting the world's oceans, cybersecurity and who should become the next leader of the Commonwealth. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Britain's Prince Charles greets the Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah in a receiving line for the Queen's Dinner for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) at Buckingham Palace in London, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, Pool)
President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari, left, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness, President of Seychelles Danny Faure, President of Sierra Leone Julius Maada Bio, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland, at right, arrive for the the second day of the Commonwealth Heads of Government 2018 for a behind closed doors meeting in Windsor, England, Friday, April 20, 2018. Leaders from the 53-nation Commonwealth nations are meeting in Windsor Castle Friday, without official agenda but are widely expected to discuss protecting the world's oceans, cybersecurity and who should become the next leader of the Commonwealth. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

LONDON — Prince Charles has spent a lifetime waiting to be king. On Friday the 69-year-old heir to the British throne got another position to wait for — he was approved as the next head of the Commonwealth made up of the U.K. and the countries that once were its colonies.

Commonwealth leaders meeting in London confirmed that the next chief of the 53-nation group "shall be His Royal Highness Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales." That won't happen until he succeeds his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, as monarch when she dies.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the decision was unanimous, although it had not been a foregone conclusion.

Elizabeth, who turns 92 on Saturday, has led the Commonwealth since she became queen in 1952. However, the position is not hereditary, and some people have suggested a non-royal leader would give the group of nations a more modern profile.

But any opposition was squelched by an intervention from the queen, who told the gathered leaders in person Thursday it was her "sincere wish" that Charles would one day carry on her Commonwealth work.

The position is largely symbolic, but the queen's commitment has been a major force behind the survival of the Commonwealth. She has visited almost every member country, often multiple times, over her 66-year reign.

Charles is almost as well-traveled as his mother, and is a longtime champion of environmental causes, a priority for the Commonwealth. Its members include small island nations in the Caribbean and Pacific that are among the countries most vulnerable to rising seas, fiercer storms and other effects of global climate change.

Leaders at the meeting signed a "blue charter" to protect the world's oceans and committed to stronger cybersecurity and freer trade.

Britain's May described Charles as "a proud supporter of the Commonwealth" and said "it is fitting that one day he will continue the work of his mother."

However, Philip Murphy, director of the University of London's Institute of Commonwealth Studies, said Charles' political passions could hold peril for the Commonwealth.

"We know the queen is very proper and discreet and doesn't push her own political ideas, but that's not true with Prince Charles," Murphy said. "And there is a danger that he might use that greater leeway to promote controversial ideas of his own, and that could be damaging."

Britain has tried to use the biennial heads of government meeting to reinvigorate a disparate group that represents 2.4 billion people living in 53 countries, from giant India to tiny Tuvalu.

The next summit, in 2020, will be held in Rwanda, which was never a British colony but has been persuaded to join the Commonwealth club. Former Portuguese colony Mozambique is also a Commonwealth member, and Togo is considering joining.

British officials have been paying more attention to the Commonwealth since the U.K. voted in 2016 to leave the European Union. The Commonwealth could provide a platform for British diplomatic and cultural clout outside the EU.

Britain laid on a lavish royal welcome for Commonwealth leaders, including a banquet at Buckingham Palace, the use of Windsor Castle for meetings and the deployment of royal glamour couple Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to a series of events.

But the summit was overshadowed by an uproar this week over the treatment by U.K. immigration authorities of some long-term British residents from the Caribbean.

The Guardian newspaper reported that some people who settled in the U.K. in the decades after World War II had recently been refused medical care or threatened with deportation because they could not produce paperwork to show their right to reside in Britain.

The government says they accidentally fell afoul of new measures intended to prevent illegal immigration. May and other government ministers have apologized repeatedly.

But opposition politicians say the treatment of the "Windrush generation" — named for the ship Empire Windrush, which brought the first big group of post-war Caribbean immigrants to Britain in 1948 — is cause for national shame.

May said Friday that Britain would do "whatever it takes," including paying compensation, to make amends.

"These people are British," she said. "They are part of us. They helped to build Britain, and we are all stronger for their contributions."

___

Pan Pylas contributed to this story.

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