By Claire Carter, and Gordon Rayner, (Telegraph): The palace confirmed the Prince of Wales will go to the meeting, which takes place every two years, in place of the Queen who has attended every meeting since 1973.
Because of the Queen’s advancing age, the Royal Household has begun limiting the number of long-haul flights she takes, though courtiers insist her diary is as busy as ever and played down any suggestion of health issues playing a part in the decision.
Despite her hospital stay earlier this year when she was treated for gastroenteritis, the Queen remains in rude health and even went riding at Windsor on Friday.
But it has been an open secret in Royal circles for several months that the Queen is not expected to make any more visits to the most far-flung corners of the Commonwealth, such as Australia and New Zealand.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: “Any long-haul trips will be looked at on a case by case basis. The Duke of Edinburgh, for example, was in Canada two weeks ago. There is no suggestion that the Queen’s diary will become less busy.
“This is part of an ongoing process looking at the Queen’s long haul travel arrangements.”
The spokesman compared the decision to last year’s arrangements when other members of the Royal family carried out overseas engagements for the Diamond Jubilee, while the Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh travelled extensively throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
But the Palace said that in terms of events and visits in her diary the Queen was “doing as much as ever, and it is very much business as usual.”
One other factor which may have been weighed up in deciding who should attend the Commonwealth summit is the fact that in recent years some Commonwealth countries have questioned whether the Prince of Wales should automatically become head of the Commonwealth when he becomes king. One alternative would be an elected head.
The Prince feels strongly that the role should be his, and his presence at the meeting as the Queen’s representative can only strengthen his case.
According to the Queen’s official list of engagements, she has seven visits planned for the rest of this month, including visiting Cornwall on May 17 and Cambridge on May 23, both with the Duke of Edinburgh. She also has six events planned for June, including a visit to the Arggyll and Sutherland Highlanders at Howe Barracks in Canterbury.
Richard Fitzwilliams, a Royal commentator, said he felt the move was very significant in light of the Queen’s personal commitment to the Commonwealth and a sign care was now being taken to balance her workloads. He said: “Throughout her reign the Queen has been absolutely dedicated to the Commonwealth. It’s her personal dedication to this organisation that has really helped to keep it going.
“There’s absolutely no doubt that if the Queen isn’t going to the meeting this is clearly a sign that at 87 she will have been advised that balancing her workloads is very important. Advancing age has its limitations.
“I would have thought it’s only sensible to take account of advancing age and clearly medical advice, if you consider the number of engagements she has had.
“If you consider we have a monarch of 87 and her consort of 91. In 1,000 years of the monarchy we’ve seen nothing like it.”
Since 1984 the Queen has completed around 15,000 engagements – including visits to Australia, Jordan and Thailand. In her Diamond Jubilee year she carried out 425.
The news of her missing the meeting comes amid controversy over the summit, with concerns having been raised by member governments over human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. But the decision by the Queen not to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) is not related to these issues, as confirmed by the Palace who said she will be still be represented by the Prince of Wales.
Mr Fitzwilliams said he thought the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would take on more engagements “in the fullness of time” and that the Prince of Wales may take on a few more, but already has a packed schedule. He also thought the Prince of Wales attending the summit was a sign that the head of the Commonwealth would continue to be held by the monarch in the future. He added: “I think there’s absolutely no doubt that the Prince of Wales will take on the head of the Commonwealth eventually. I think it’s absolutely essential that the British monarch will remain head of the Commonwealth.”
But he added that he expected the Queen to continue to do as many engagements as she could. He said: “If the next Commonwealth meeting is held somewhere that the Queen can attend I am sure she will. The Queen will do everything she can for as long as she can, she has extreme stamina.
“We know that the Queen hates letting anyone down.”
Every two years leaders of the 54 Commonwealth nations meet to discuss global issues, and the Queen attended the last meeting in Perth, Australia, in 2011.
The location of the meeting in Sri Lanka has divided leaders of the Commonwealth countries, concerned about the country’s human rights record and the ruling of its president, Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Prime Minister David Cameron has recently defied calls to boycott the meeting in November, and confirmed he will attend. A government spokesperson said: “We do not think that turning away from the problem is the best way to make progress in Sri Lanka. There’s nothing to suggest that not going will convince Rajapaksa he must do more.
“We believe that the attendance of many world leaders and the global media will help to shine a light on what is going on the country, what has been achieved and what more needs to be done.”
Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he will boycott the meeting and has demanded an inquiry into claims 40,000 people were killed by Sri Lankan troops in 2009. But Australia has said the boycott proposals are wrong.
A Foreign Office spokesman said diplomats had demanded Sri Lanka demonstrate its commitment to human rights.
Amnesty International has joined other activists, including Human Rights Watch and Tamil groups, also demanding a boycott of the meeting. The summit will take place from November 15 to 17 this year in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
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