The Prince of Wales has told Commonwealth leaders that keeping the Queen as head of state or becoming a republic is “a matter for each member country to decide”.

Charles made the comments during the opening ceremony of a summit of Commonwealth prime ministers and presidents in Rwanda. He said he believed such fundamental changes could be made “calmly and without rancour”.

His observations are likely to be interpreted as an acknowledgment of forces already in motion as a number of Caribbean nations have suggested they may drop the British monarchy and elect their own heads of state.

Barbados took the historic move of replacing the Queen as head of state in November last year and elected its first president during a ceremony witnessed by the prince.

He is representing the Queen at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting (Chogm), where his visit has been overshadowed by a row over reported comments he made criticising the government’s scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The prince’s office at Clarence House has refused to be drawn on comments made by Boris Johnson, who on Thursday appeared to take a swipe at the royal and those who had attacked his plans to forcibly remove asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The prime minister said before a meeting with Charles on Friday: “People need to keep an open mind about the policy, the critics need to keep an open mind about the policy.”

In response, a Clarence House spokesperson said: “As we have said previously, we will not be commenting on supposed remarks made in private except to say that the prince is politically neutral. Policy is a matter for government.”

In the end, the hyped meeting after the opening ceremony lasted 15 minutes. Before the summit began the prince and Johnson had met briefly, with the prime minister nodding his head in deference and smiling as he shook Charles’s hand.

In his address at the opening ceremony, Charles said: “The Commonwealth contains within it countries that have had constitutional relationships with my family, some that continue to do so, and increasingly those that have had none.

“I want to say clearly, as I have said before, that each member’s constitutional arrangement, as republic or monarchy, is purely a matter for each member country to decide. The benefit of long life brings me the experience that arrangements such as these can change, calmly and without rancour.”

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s visit to the Caribbean in March appeared to raise the issue of other realms – nations where the Queen is head of state – breaking away from the British monarchy.

<gu-island name="EmbedBlockComponent" deferuntil="visible" props="{"html":"","caption":"Sign up to First Edition, our free daily newsletter – every weekday morning at 7am

","isTracking":false,"isMainMedia":false,"source":"The Guardian","sourceDomain":"theguardian.com"}”>

Sign up to First Edition, our free daily newsletter – every weekday morning at 7am

Jamaica’s prime minister, Andrew Holness, who has travelled to Rwanda for Chogm, suggested to the couple that his country may be the next to become a republic.

A few days after Prince William and Kate left Belize, that country’s minister for constitutional and political reform, Henry Charles Usher, reportedly told Belize’s parliament: “Perhaps it is time for Belize to take the next step in truly owning our independence. But it is a matter that the people of Belize must decide on.”

Before the opening ceremony in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, Charles, who has been joined by the Duchess of Cornwall, was to meet the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, and the first lady, Jeannette Kagame, the Commonwealth secretary general, Patricia Scotland, and Johnson and his wife, Carrie.

Source: The Guardian