The UK will host next Commonwealth summit in 2018

PTI| Last Updated: Nov 29, 2015, 02:46 AM IST

Britain will host the next Commonwealth summit, in 2018, Downing Street announced Saturday, meaning the current gathering in Malta may not be the last attended in person by Queen Elizabeth II.

The next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), staged every two years and bringing together leaders from the 53-country organisation, was due to be held in Vanuatu in 2017.

However, the tiny Pacific island nation was battered by Cyclone Pam in March, which badly damaged much of its infrastructure.

"The UK will host the next Commonwealth summit in spring 2018," a Downing Street spokeswoman said, on the second day of the three-day 2015 summit in Malta.

Several newspapers thought the current CHOGM on the Mediterranean island might be the last to be attended by Queen Elizabeth, 89, the symbolic head of the Commonwealth, who returned to Britain on Saturday.

It is understood that she has discontinued long-haul travel for the summits, as she was represented by her eldest son Prince Charles at the previous CHOGM in Colombo in 2013.

The 2019 CHOGM is due to be held in Malaysia.

Buckingham Palace sources insist there has been no blanket decision to abandon long-haul overseas travel completely -- Prince Philip, who is now 94, undertook a three-day visit to Canada in April 2013.

But they say the programmes of any overseas visits are now more "paced" to reflect the ages of the Queen and her husband.

Queen Elizabeth has not travelled outside of Europe since 2011, when she and Prince Philip toured Australia before the CHOGM held in Perth.Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said of the leaders` decision to go to Britain for the next summit: "It has been indicated that for Her Majesty to travel very long distances, that is not feasible any more.

"I wouldn`t say that was part of the decision but certainly is most welcome as part of the consequence that she will be able personally, once again, to act as head of the Commonwealth at the next CHOGM."

In her speech Friday at the Malta CHOGM opening ceremony, Queen Elizabeth struck a reflective note, looking back on her years as the organisation`s figurehead and forward to its future in a younger generation.

"I feel enormously proud of what the Commonwealth has achieved, and all of it within my lifetime," she said.

It was right "publicly to redouble our commitment to the Commonwealth`s youth, our future," she said.

On the final day of her three-day state visit to Malta, Queen Elizabeth sailed across the capital Valletta`s Grand Harbour in a dghajsa -- a traditional water taxi -- and visited the racecourse.