Prince to turn on charm in Barbados after BLM 'lit spark' to cast off Queen

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The Queen inspects a guard of honour in Barbados in 1977 - Anwar Hussein/Getty 
The Queen inspects a guard of honour in Barbados in 1977 - Anwar Hussein/Getty

When Barbados cuts ties with the British crown after nearly 400 years, it will be a largely symbolic moment, but one that will nonetheless be greeted by discontent in a political climate shaped by Black Lives Matter.

The Caribbean country becomes a republic on Monday, when the Queen will be replaced as head of state by a president, in a move that threatens to destabilise the Commonwealth realms over which she still reigns.

It will also formally end a connection that has existed between the two countries since English ships first arrived on uninhabited Barbadian shores in 1625, followed by settlement two years later.

But a long shadow has been cast by the brutal, centuries-long slave economy that was established on the island by the British and political observers believe it has helped create the conditions of popular support for republicanism in modern Barbados.

This discontent was further fanned when the BLM cause swept the globe last year and forced many societies to reckon with the crimes of their past.

In Barbados, a statue of Lord Nelson - which predates the monument in Trafalgar Square - was removed from Bridgetown’s National Heroes Square after his past support for the slave trade was thrust back into the public spotlight.

It had a “galvanising effect in terms of nationalism” in the months before the republic was declared, according to Peter Wickham, a Barbadian political analyst.

“It’s maybe led us to this point where we’ve said, ‘let’s take a further step in terms of nationalism’ - perhaps Black Lives Matter has lit a spark,” he said.

Now, with the Prince of Wales due to arrive in Bridgetown on Monday to witness the dawn of a new republic, racial justice campaigners have trained their sights on the royal family.

Planned protests against Prince Charles

BLM’s Barbados branch is among several political groups who plan to stage a protest on the day Prince Charles arrives in the country - to condemn his involvement in the republic celebrations.

They view as particularly controversial the decision by Mia Mottley, the country’s prime minister, to award him the Order of the Freedom of Barbados, the country’s highest honour.

“It’s rubbing salt in the wounds,” said Lalu Hanuman, a lawyer who has helped organise the protests.

He claimed a tangible link still exists between the Royal family and slavery, as Kensington Palace was bought by King William III, one of the main shareholders in the Royal African Company, which shipped hundreds of thousands of slaves across the Atlantic.

“The Royal family has a lot of slave blood on its hands,” he said.

The concerns that are foremost in the minds of British officials, however, is how the country will stay relevant in the Caribbean as its historic, constitutional bonds grow increasingly frayed.

Scott Furssedonn-Wood, the British high commissioner for Barbados, pictured below, is all too aware of the importance of a royal charm offensive at this critical juncture.

Scott Furssedonn-Wood with a portrait of The Queen - Heathcliff O'Malley for The Telegraph
Scott Furssedonn-Wood with a portrait of The Queen - Heathcliff O'Malley for The Telegraph

The diplomat, himself a former deputy private secretary to Prince Charles, told The Telegraph: “This moment has posed a challenge to us, in that it requires us to lean into this and say, ‘well, actually, we’ve got to make sure this relationship is one that is relevant’.

“We breathe new life into it, we reinvigorate it, we don’t take anything for granted, we don’t rest on past assumptions.”

The presence of Prince Charles - who is a guest of Ms Mottley - demonstrates “at the highest possible level” the commitment Britain still has to Barbados, he added, with the two nations united by shared interests on issues such as climate change.

“I spent four years travelling around the world with the Prince of Wales and I’ve seen what an extraordinary impact these visits can have,” he said.

Despite such optimism, it remains striking just how few traces of the Queen - as serving head of state and the nation’s final monarch - remain in the cultural fabric of Barbados, which became independent in 1966.

There will be no statues that need tearing down, nor portraits in need of removal from the walls of public offices when the island officially begins a new era at midnight on November 30. Her Majesty has not featured on a banknote here since 1973.

Indeed, one of the few places where a portrait of the Queen still remains on the island is in the residence of the high commissioner, where her picture towers over the hallway.

Such a marked absence from modern Barbadian consciousness has meant many who live on the island admit to not fully understanding what a new republic actually means.

Yet those closest to the political process are in little doubt that this represents a key moment in Barbadian national life.

They include John King, a Birmingham-born calypso singer turned minister in the Barbados government with responsibility for culture and national development.

‘Independence completes the circle’

Speaking in his office on the outskirts of Bridgetown, he said the achievement of full constitutional independence was “completing the circle”.

He said: “Freedom to lead yourself is important. If it wasn’t, then England would still be part of Rome.”

He is among many Barbadians who have bristled at the suggestion - made by Tom Tugendhat, the Tory MP, among others - that the country’s republican mood was conditioned by China, after the superpower began heavily investing in the island.

“This, in my mind, is one of the biggest reasons why there is animosity oftentimes between Britain and the former colonies,” he said.

“It is exactly the mindset of a colonial master - that, as a sovereign nation, you still have no concept of doing things on your own, obviously someone else is pushing you in a particular direction. It is just a monumental insult.”

The transition to a republic appeared, on the face of it, to be uncontentious when it was formally pushed through last year by the Barbados Labour Party, which had won every seat in the lower house of its parliament in the 2018 election.

What this display of political consensus masked was resentment brewing at a deeper societal level - among the many still loyal to the Queen on the island, or who resent that Barbados is cutting itself adrift from a powerful ally.

One local driver reflected, simply: “Barbados is too small not to have anyone to rely on.”

Before long, a new campaign group opposing the republic - Barbadians for Constitutional Monarchy - sprung up and has since attracted hundreds of supporters.

Alexander Clarkson, a spokesman for the group, told The Telegraph: “We felt Barbados benefited hugely from being, in effect, a ‘crowned republic’ with all the benefits of full executive, legislative and judicial independence but with the monarchy acting as a constitutional backstop - beholden to neither political cronyism or short-term interests.

“It avoided concentrating even more power with the elites. Elizabeth II was monarch by the grace of God. [Sandra Mason, the new head of state] is now president by the grace of Mia Mottley.”

The fallout from events in this corner of the West Indies will be watched closely by the remaining Commonwealth realms, where the Queen’s role of head of state is increasingly insecure, particularly in the Caribbean.

Opinion polling in Jamaica indicates that a majority would now support a republic, with the ruling Jamaica Labour Party saying that it could take a decision on the move soon.

Richard Drayton, Rhodes professor of imperial history at King’s College London, said: “I’m absolutely confident that this will have implications for Jamaica.

“I think that this will, in some ways, accelerate the momentum towards a change to a republican Jamaica and probably also other islands.”

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