The news of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II – The Queen, as President Macron referred to her – has been greeted by a sincere outpouring of grief around the world. Countries in the Commonwealth representing 2.5 billion people have been very much at the forefront of remembering her contribution. She was of course Queen of 14 other Commonwealth countries in addition to the UK, so the proclamation of the new King has seen the Commonwealth very much in the news.
The Commonwealth has in many ways grown up with the Queen, she pledged her support to the organisation in 1947 and became head of the Commonwealth of Nations in 1949, a role which she was committed to right up until her death. Her leadership role has been hugely important in promoting unity.
The Commonwealth brings together a very diverse group of countries from across the world in a voluntary union grounded in shared values and commitment to democracy, human rights, equality, justice and the rule of law. The organisation plays an important role in global policy making, with a particular focus on supporting its small and vulnerable members. Alongside the formal intergovernmental Commonwealth are many Commonwealth organisations bringing the peoples of the Commonwealth together, including local government through the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF). The Commonwealth Games is probably one of the most widely recognised of these.
The role of Head of the Commonwealth is not automatically conferred on the monarch. Commonwealth Heads of Government took a decision at their meeting in 2018 that King Charles III should take on the role following the death of his mother to ensure continuity. The Commonwealth itself emerged from a very difficult period of history, and as the then Prince of Wales said at the opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali, June 2019,
“If we are to forge a common future that benefits all our citizens, we too must find new ways to acknowledge our past”.
This is certainly a significant moment in the history of the Commonwealth. There is often confusion around whether deciding to become a republic impacts on membership of the Commonwealth. This is not the case, as we have seen most recently in the case of Barbados which remains a full and active member of the Commonwealth.
This moment in history will certainly provide an opportunity for reflection and potentially renewal. As “a global association… which believes in the tangible benefits that flow from exchanging ideas and experiences and respecting each other’s point of view.” (HM Queen Elizabeth II).
Within the Commonwealth, we have much to be grateful for because of the service and stewardship of HM Queen Elizabeth II and many truly joyous memories to treasure and celebrate. As we go forward, the potential of this network is only just beginning to be realised – socially, culturally and economically. We welcome the input and important contribution of King Charles III thus far in issues of the utmost importance to our lives and to the planet as a whole, and we look forward to his continued support in his role as Head of the Commonwealth.