The Commonwealth has secretly begun considering who might succeed the Queen as its head, the BBC has learned.
The issue is hugely sensitive because the role is not hereditary and will not pass automatically to the Prince of Wales on the Queen’s death.
The Commonwealth has set up a “high level group” to look at the way the international organisation is governed.
This group is meeting later, officially to review how the Commonwealth is run by its secretariat and governors.
However, senior sources added that the gathering in London would also consider what happens when the Queen, who turns 92 in April, dies.
One said: “I imagine the question of the succession, however distasteful it may naturally be, will come up.”
The agenda for the all-day summit, seen by the BBC, says there will be a discussion of “wider governance considerations” which insiders say is code for the succession.
The group is expected to report to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London in April, which is likely to be the last that the 91-year-old monarch will attend.
A second source said the issue of the succession is expected to be discussed by Commonwealth leaders on the margins of the summit, particularly when they meet without officials “on retreat” at Windsor Castle.
The Queen was proclaimed Head of the Commonwealth at her coronation when she was head of state in seven of its eight members.
It is not an hereditary position that will pass automatically to her son, who will be head of state in only 15 of the 53 member nations that now make up the Commonwealth.
Any decision about the future would have to be made by the Commonwealth heads of government at the time of the Queen’s death. But there is no formal process for choosing her successor.
While many Commonwealth figures presume there will be no realistic alternative to Prince Charles, there has in the past been talk of electing a ceremonial leader to improve the organisation’s democratic credentials.
One source said the issue to be decided was whether a one-off decision should be taken to appoint Prince Charles to the position, or whether a new process should be agreed to ensure that it is always the British monarch who automatically becomes head of the Commonwealth.
“There are various formulas being played with,” the source said. “Should it always be the heir to the throne or Prince Charles himself? Is it the person or the position?”
The high level group, which is made up of seven senior former ministers from the Commonwealth, will meet at the body’s London headquarters at Marlborough House.
The group, which has its own staff and budget, is independent of the Commonwealth Secretariat. It will look at how the secretariat is run and funded, how a new secretary general is chosen and the balance of power between the Commonwealth’s governors and executive committee.
According to documents seen by the BBC, the high level group will not just confine itself to bureaucratic changes. The agenda for the meeting says: “Discussions will take into consideration the issues raised in the first session and also the wider governance considerations of the Commonwealth.”
The Queen has been working in private to try to ensure that Prince Charles does succeed her, sending senior officials around the world to lobby Commonwealth leaders.
At the last CHOGM in Malta in 2015, the Queen told them that she could not “wish to have been better supported and represented in the Commonwealth than by the Prince of Wales who continues to give so much to it with great distinction”.
The Prince of Wales represented the Queen at the CHOGM in Sri Lanka in 2013. A whole section of his website is devoted to the Commonwealth, noting that he has visited 41 out of 53 countries and has been a “proud supporter” for more than four decades.
The high level group consists of:
- Chairman Anote Tong: Former president of Kiribati
- Lord Howell: Former British energy secretary
- Louise Frechette: Former United Nations deputy secretary general
- Robert Hill: Former Australian defence minister
- Dame Billie Miller: Former deputy prime minister of Barbados
- Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: Former Nigerian minister of finance
- George Vella: Former deputy prime minister of Malta
Father Of Ivory Coast Boy Smuggled In A Suitcase Walks Free
The father of a boy who was hidden inside a suitcase in an attempt to smuggle him into Europe has been allowed to walk free from court.
Adou was just eight years old when a shocked border official spotted his figure – crushed into the fetal position – on an X-ray at the border of Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in May 2015.
His father Ali Ouattara, 45, was waiting on the other side, having been promised by the smugglers that his son was being brought from his home in the Ivory Coast to Europe by car.
Attempts to have their son join them in Spain legally failed, Mr Ouattara explained, and after Adou’s grandmother died, leaving him with just his 18-year-old brother, the family had resorted to paying a criminal gang 5,000 euros ($6,200; £4,400).
But after Adou was found inside the suitcase, the one-time French and philosophy teacher faced charges of facilitating his son’s illegal entry into Europe and threatening the child’s life.
Prosecutors were hoping for a three-year jail sentence, and the cruelty – and danger – of making the crossing this way was not lost on judge Fernando Teson.
“The child’s life was endangered, he was inhumanly curled up in a tiny suitcase, without ventilation,” he told the court in Ceuta, according to news agency AFP.
However, it was 10-year-old Adou’s testimony which saved his father from a long sentence.
The little boy said a “Moroccan girl” forced him into the suitcase, which made it difficult for him to breathe.
But Adou said Mr Ouattara – who has spent a month in prison – had always told him the journey would be made “by car” – and the court could find no evidence the family had known any different.
Mr Ouattara was ordered to pay a 92 euro ($114) fine, but could walk free.
“It’s all over and we can begin to resume out lives, together, my wife, my daughter my son and I,” he said, revealing the family would start a new life in northern Spain.
Nigeria Boko Haram: Schoolgirls Escape Militant Attack
Schoolgirls and teachers in north-eastern Nigeria have escaped an attack on a boarding school by Boko Haram jihadists, witnesses say.
They say the militants in pick-up trucks arrived in the town of Dapchi, Yobe state, on Monday evening, shooting and setting off explosives.
Alerted by the noise, staff and students were able to flee.
In April 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped more than 270 girls from a school in the north-eastern town of Chibok.
Residents and civilian militia in Dapchi say they believe the jihadists had planned to kidnap schoolgirls in their town too.
After finding the school empty, the militants looted the building.
They say that Nigeria’s security forces – backed by military jets – later repelled the attack.
Last September, a group of more than 100 of the Chibok girls were reunited with their families at a party in the capital Abuja.
Most of the group were released in May as part of a controversial prisoner swap deal with the Nigerian government that saw five Boko Haram commanders released.
But more than 100 schoolgirls are still being held by Boko Haram, and their whereabouts are unknown.
Boko Haram militants have been fighting a long insurgency in their quest for an Islamic state in northern Nigeria. The conflict is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of people.
The Chibok girls represent a fraction of the women captured by the militant group, which has kidnapped thousands during its eight-year insurgency in northern Nigeria.
BBC Starts Igbo And Yoruba Services In Nigeria
Two new language services have been launched by the BBC World Service for Igbo and Yoruba speakers in Nigeria and West and Central Africa.
Their digital content is mainly aimed at audiences who use mobile phones.
Igbo is primarily spoken in south-east Nigeria and Yoruba in the south-west, as well as in Benin and Togo.
The new services are part of the World Service’s biggest expansion since the 1940s, following a government-funding boost announced in 2016.
In total, 12 services are being launched by the BBC in Africa and Asia.
Igbo – seven things
- Best-known Igbo speaker was Chinua Achebe, regarded as the founding father of African literature
- Estimated to have more than 30 million speakers, mainly in south-eastern Nigeria
- A word with the same spelling can have different meanings, for example “akwa” is bed, egg, cloth or burial rights – depending on its tone
- An Igbo secessionist movement sparked a brutal civil war in 1967
- The caffeine-rich kola nut is all important in Igbo culture – always offered to welcome guests
- A famous proverb: “Onye wetara ọjị, wetara ndụ” meaning: “He who brings kola, brings life”
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