Jamaica’s prime minister has told the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge that his country is “moving on” and intends to become a republic.
The royals’ arrival in Jamaica on Tuesday coincided with a much-publicised demonstration urging the monarchy to pay reparations for slavery, and calls from politicians for the country to become a republic.
The couple’s visit to Jamaica has given the nation the opportunity to address “unresolved” issues, the prime minister, Andrew Holness, told them. During an official welcome, Holness said: “There are issues here which are, as you would know, unresolved but your presence gives an opportunity for those issues to be placed in context, put front and centre and to be addressed in as best [a way] as we can.
“Jamaica is as you would see a country that is very proud of our history and very proud of what we have achieved. We are moving on and we intend to attain in short order … our goals and fulfil our true ambitions as an independent, developed, prosperous country.”
After the decision by Barbados to remove the Queen as head of state, Holness said last December that “there is no question that Jamaica has to become a republic”. There has been bipartisan support for the move for years and the campaign to change Jamaica’s status is increasingly a mainstream position.
Amid reports that a senior official has already been appointed to oversee the transition to a republic, polling experts say Jamaican public opinion has moved steadily in favour of becoming a republic over the past decade, fuelled by increasing discussion of the negative legacy of colonialism and by interest in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Lisa Hanna, Jamaican’s opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs, said the last three years had led to a generation of Caribbean people who are “more self reflective, more socially conscious”, and the Windrush scandal was contributing to this. Watching how “our grandparents and great-grandparents” were being treated “gave us a sense of questioning and reckoning”, Hanna said. “It’s time we look at how we’ve given so much of ourselves to Great Britain.”
Political pollster Don Anderson said only around 40% of Jamaicans supported separation from the monarchy in 2011, but in 2020 this had increased to 62%. “I’d be surprised if that number isn’t closer now to 70%, because of the increased calls for Jamaica to follow Barbados in becoming a republic,” he said. “There has also been an increased awareness of the atrocities of colonialism. I don’t think it was on people’s radar in the same way 10 years ago. I believe the government will be forced to respond to this very soon.”
Campaigners this week published a document listing 60 reasons why the British government and royals should apologise to the Jamaican people and offer reparations, citing human trafficking and the transatlantic slave trade and the destruction of Jamaica’s natural environment by establishing a plantation system.
An open letter addressed to Prince William and Kate, signed by 100 campaigners, which was delivered to the British high commission on Tuesday, noted that the Queen had “done nothing to redress or atone for the suffering of our ancestors that took place during her reign and during the entire period of British trafficking of Africans, enslavement and colonisation”.
“You, who may one day lead the British monarchy, are direct beneficiaries of the wealth accumulated by the royal family over centuries, including that stemming from the trafficking and enslavement of Africans,” the letter said. “We urge you to start with an apology and recognition of the need for atonement and reparations.”
Economics professor Rosalea Hamilton, who drafted the letter, said the royal visit was inadvertently “fast-tracking” the campaign to move to a republic. If Prince William failed to apologise and discuss reparations during the visit, the campaign would “surge ahead” and the move to a republic would become an inevitability, she said.
Lawyer Jennifer Housen said people in Jamaica were increasingly wondering what the benefit was of continued ties with the UK, given that the UK requires Jamaican nationals to apply for visas before visiting (and makes these visas hard to secure) and that economic links were no longer significant. “How special are we when our nationals need a visa even to come to Britain? People feel the relationship is pointless.”
The parallel campaign for payment of reparations for slavery from the British government has intensified in the past year. Culture minister Olivia Grange said this week: “Reparations will happen. It is about regaining our respect. It has to do with our dignity. It has to do with ensuring that the injustices that were meted out to our enslaved ancestors are corrected. We are on a mission, we have to achieve that goal.”
Earlier this year, the Jamaican prime minister established a new ministry responsible for constitutional reform, having previously directed then attorney general Marlene Malahoo Forte to research the removal of the Queen as head of state.
Philip Murphy, an expert on Commonwealth history and author of Monarchy and the End of Empire, said the royal family’s decision to visit Jamaica was having the unintended consequence of strengthening campaigns for Jamaica to drop its ties with the British monarchy. “Campaigners might not have got that kind of international attention without the presence of William and Kate. We seem to be reaching a tipping point where events that are clearly choreographed by the British government as a sort of charm offensive, banging the drum for global Britain, become a kind of shitstorm of controversy,” he said.