Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall are likely to witness an unseemly showdown at the Commonwealth conference in Rwanda next month when Boris Johnson tries to oust Patricia Scotland as secretary general of the Commonwealth.
The UK has been working behind the scenes for nearly two years to remove Lady Scotland, claiming she has not modernised the institution, and last week the prime minister publicly stated he was supporting a rival to Scotland.
Johnson said “the UK” supported the candidacy of the Jamaican minister of foreign affairs, Kamina Johnson Smith, for her “vast experience and support to unite our unique family of nations and seize opportunities ahead”.
Supporters of Scotland claim that Johnson’s backing of one candidate, at a time when the UK is supposed to be the neutral scrutiniser of the election process, is an abuse of his position and has compromised the UK’s role.
The shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, criticised Johnson’s intervention, saying: “The chair of the Commonwealth is supposed to maintain neutrality and confidentiality. No chair has ever done this in the Commonwealth history. It’s unseemly and divisive.”
Scotland, a Labour-appointed peer, would be expected to retain her role if a simple majority of the 54 Commonwealth states do not vote to remove her, and only otherwise should other candidates be considered for the role of administering the 54-member Commonwealth.
Scotland’s supporters say at present they are confident there is not a majority in favour of her dismissal, and claim resentment has grown at what could be regarded as a divisive approach.
One Commonwealth source said: “Against all the conventions of the Commonwealth, the UK has spent huge amounts of time and money trying to depose Scotland. What they do not seem to realise is that the rest of the Commonwealth can see what they are doing.”
The election is due to take place at the Commonwealth summit in Kigali between 20 and 26 June.
Regardless of the outcome, Scotland is expected to stand down at the next Commonwealth conference, in two years’ time, when her second four-year term will have expired. It is normal, but not a rule, that a secretary general is handed a second four-year term.
Johnson’s statement of support for Johnson Smith is likely to ensure most of the big Commonwealth states, such as Australia and Canada, come out in support of Jamaica so to appease the UK. The Caribbean states are now divided on who to back.
Scotland has done a lot in office to support the island states, and will be hoping for support from them, as well as from African countries that may feel it was their continent’s turn to supply the next secretary general.
Johnson Smith in her campaign literature does not give a specific reason why Scotland should be removed, instead focusing on her own considerable experience as a commercial lawyer, trade negotiator and minister.
Scotland was born in Dominica and lived and worked in the UK before becoming attorney general in the Labour government led by Gordon Brown.
In 2021, Caricom, the 15-strong Caribbean umbrella body, took the unified position to support Scotland’s completion of a second term as secretary general, although it is known that some members opposed Scotland.
Antigua and Barbuda’s PM Gaston Browne, a former Caricom chair, described Jamaica’s surprise bid as a “monumental error”, but Jamaica said it had the right to make its own sovereign decisions.
Scotland’s leadership has been under the microscope since it was revealed that she had circumvented the customary competitive tendering requirement by awarding a consultancy contract to a friend’s company.
Scotland’s backers say audits have given her a clean bill of health and that her decision to award the contract complied with procurement procedures at the time.