William ‘very wise’ in comments on future of Commonwealth

The Education Secretary said the duke was right to say people have to decide independently if they want to be part of the Commonwealth family.

27 March 2022

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has praised the Duke of Cambridge for his “very wise” words on the future of the Commonwealth.

William acknowledged the monarchy’s days in Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas may be numbered as he said the future “is for the people to decide upon”.

Asked if it was the beginning of the end for the association of nations, Mr Zahawi told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “No, I think it will be the beginning of strengthening the Commonwealth.

“Because I think, actually, Prince William – and I know he believes deeply in the Commonwealth – is right to say that people have to decide independently if they want to be part of the Commonwealth family, and that decision will strengthen the Commonwealth, not take away from it.

“So I think he’s being very wise and has chosen his words carefully.”

William and Kate visited Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas during their Caribbean tour, but by the time of their next royal trip the Queen may have been replaced as head of state by a homegrown figurehead.

In a statement reflecting on the end of their tour, the future king emphasised that who Commonwealth nations choose to be leader “isn’t what is on my mind”, adding that what concerns him is its potential to “create a better future for the people who form it”.

He stressed that he and his wife Kate are “committed to service” and see their role as supporting people, “not telling them what to do”.

The statement might be interpreted as a response to days of criticism the couple faced during their eight-day tour, from accusations that Belize locals were not consulted about a royal engagement to calls for slavery reparations in Jamaica.

The couple were also accused of being “tone deaf” after they were seen shaking hands with crowds behind a wire mesh fence Kingston, and images of the pair riding in the back of a Land Rover were denounced as harking back to colonial days.

The Duchess of Cambridge in Kingston, Jamaica
The Duchess of Cambridge in Kingston, Jamaica (Chris Jackson/PA)

Media coverage of the tour has been split, with some emphasising the positive impact of their presence in the Caribbean, while others described the fence photograph as a “PR disaster”.

The duke said in his statement: “I know that this tour has brought into even sharper focus questions about the past and the future. In Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas, that future is for the people to decide upon.

“But we have thoroughly enjoyed spending time with communities in all three countries, understanding more about the issues that matter most to them.

“Catherine and I are committed to service. For us that’s not telling people what to do. It is about serving and supporting them in whatever way they think best, by using the platform we are lucky to have.”

Kate and William leave the Bahamas at the end of their tour
Kate and William leave the Bahamas at the end of their tour (Toby Melville/PA)

William is destined to be the king of Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas when the time comes, but his statement, and a speech he gave on Friday, indicate the future monarch is aware the changing political and cultural landscape may bring this to an end.

Barbados replaced the Queen as head of state in November, and elected its first president during a ceremony witnessed by the Prince of Wales.

William’s comments at the end of his Caribbean tour are an acknowledgement of forces already in motion, as Jamaica’s prime minister Andrew Holness suggested to the couple his country may be the next to become a republic.

And a minister from Belize’s government told his parliament, a few days after the Cambridges left: “Perhaps it is time for Belize to take the next step in truly owning our independence.”

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