Britain: the next Commonwealth summit, in 2018, Downing Street announced on Saturday, meaning the current gathering in Malta may not be the last attended in person by Queen Elizabeth II. The next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), staged every two years and bringing together leaders from the 53-country organisation, was due to be held in Vanuatu in 2017. However, the tiny Pacific island nation was battered by Cyclone Pam in March, which badly damaged much of its infrastructure. “The UK will host the next Commonwealth summit in spring 2018,” a Downing Street spokeswoman said, on the second day of the three-day 2015 summit in Malta. Several newspapers thought the current CHOGM on the Mediterranean island might be the last to be attended by Queen Elizabeth, 89, the symbolic head of the Commonwealth, who returned to Britain on Saturday. It is understood that she has discontinued long-haul travel for the summits, as she was represented by her eldest son Prince Charles at the previous CHOGM in Colombo in 2013. The 2019 CHOGM is due to be held in Malaysia.
Buckingham Palace sources insist there has been no blanket decision to abandon long-haul overseas travel completely — Prince Philip, who is now 94, undertook a three-day visit to Canada in April 2013. But they say the programmes of any overseas visits are now more “paced” to reflect the ages of the Queen and her husband. Queen Elizabeth has not travelled outside of Europe since 2011, when she and Prince Philip toured Australia before the CHOGM held in Perth. In her speech yesterday at the Malta CHOGM opening ceremony, Queen Elizabeth struck a reflective note, looking back on her years as head of the organisation and forward to its future.
“I feel enormously proud of what the Commonwealth has achieved, and all of it within my lifetime,” she said. It was right “publicly to redouble our commitment to the Commonwealth’s youth, our future,” she said. At the Malta summit, several prime ministers have voiced their support for Charles to become the next head of the Commonwealth after Queen Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth is head of state of 16 of the 53 Commonwealth countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Jamaica. But unlike the crown, the position of head of the Commonwealth is not hereditary. On the final day of her three-day state visit to Malta, Queen Elizabeth sailed across the capital Valletta’s Grand Harbour in a dghajsa — a traditional water taxi — and visited the racecourse, both favourite haunts from her past. She lived in Malta between 1949 and 1951 as a newlywed princess, as Prince Philip was stationed on the island as a British naval officer.