Prince Charles was approved as the successor to Queen Elizabeth as head of the Commonwealth at a meeting of the group’s heads of government on Friday at Windsor Castle. “We recognise the role of the queen in championing the Commonwealth and its peoples,” the Commonwealth leaders said in a statement. “The next head of the Commonwealth shall be His Royal Highness Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales.” The Commonwealth is a loose alliance of 53 member states, most of which are former British territories. There have been calls for the role to be rotated around the member states, but in recent days the queen, the British government and other leaders have backed Charles, 69. The Commonwealth evolved out of the British Empire in the mid-20th century, and the queen has been its head since her reign began in 1952. Bridal designers talk princess moments and Meghan Markle Charles had long been expected to take on the role even though it is not strictly hereditary. Some people have suggested a non-royal leader would be more appropriate in the 21st century. The queen – who turns 92 on Saturday – said Thursday that she hoped her son and heir would one day “carry on the important work started by my father in 1949.” The British government backed Charles to succeed his mother, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he agreed “very much” with the queen’s wishes. 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 a long-time 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. Protecting the world’s oceans is high on the agenda at the Commonwealth meeting, alongside issues such as cybersecurity and trade. Britain has tried to use the biennial heads of government meeting to reinvigorate the disparate group that has struggled to carve out a firm place on the world stage. The UK also wants to lay the groundwork for new trade deals with Commonwealth nations after Britain leaves the European Union next year. But the summit has been overshadowed by uproar over the treatment by UK immigration authorities of some long-term British residents from the Caribbean. May and other government ministers have apologised repeatedly after it emerged that some people who settled in the UK in the decades after the second world war had recently been refused medical care or threatened with deportation because they could not produce paperwork to show their right to reside in Britain.