Prince Charles steps into queen's Commonwealth role
The decision by Queen Elizabeth not to attend this year's Commonwealth heads of government meeting (CHOGM) heralds a new role for her son and heir, Prince Charles, and represents the latest accommodation to her age.
Buckingham Palace said Charles, the Prince of Wales, will represent the 87-year-old monarch at the meeting in Sri Lanka. The queen has not missed the CHOGM conference, which is held every two years, since 1973.
It will be the first time the future king has stepped into this role. The move will help prepare him to become the next head of the Commonwealth, although he has no automatic entitlement to the position.
Campaigners had called for the queen to avoid the November summit in Colombo because of Sri Lanka's human rights record. The fact she has decided Charles should go in her place indicates this is not a political decision but a practical one.
Palace officials are reviewing the amount of long-haul travel undertaken by the monarch and her husband Prince Philip, who will be 92 next month.
A spokesman said: "It is nothing to do with the political situation in Sri Lanka. The key point here is that the queen will be represented, although she is not there in person, by the Prince of Wales."
The decision will not have been taken lightly. Apart from highlighting the queen's age and arousing concern for her health, it will be seen as a symbolic moment in Charles' preparation for kingship and his assuming more of his mother's duties.
The queen regards her role as head of the 54-nation voluntary association as one of the most important of her reign, although she has no formal powers. She has visited all but two Commonwealth countries, Cameroon and Rwanda.
Prince Philip has described his wife as the "Commonwealth psychotherapist" and she has built up unique relations with its leaders throughout her reign. As a young queen, she grew up alongside leaders such as Zambia's Kenneth Kaunda, Tanzania's Julius Nyerere and Indira Gandhi of India.
Her role means her relationship with the Commonwealth and its leaders is different to that of any British government. Many use CHOGM as an opportunity to privately confide in her. She was first present at the 1973 CHOGM in Ottawa, Canada.
British prime minister David Cameron said the Queen's decision was "entirely understandable"and did not reflect any decrease in the queen's commitment to the Commonwealth.