Jamaica’s republic plans: what next for the Commonwealth?

The former British colony may become the second Caribbean island to sever relations with British monarchy in four months

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge ride in a Land Rover at a military parade in Kingston
(Image credit: Karwai Tang/WireImage)

Jamaica wants to become a fully independent country, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has announced during a visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to the Commonwealth nation.

“We are moving on,” Holness told reporters in the capital of Kingston as the Duke and Duchess stood by his side. “We intend to… fulfil our true ambitions and destiny as an independent, developed, prosperous country.”

If the former British colony does break away from the monarchy, it would become the second Caribbean island to sever relations with Queen Elizabeth II in the past few months, after Barbados did so in November.

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Long road to independence

The announcement by Holness “surprised many on the island” said the Independent, and “unleashed a flurry of text messages and phone calls” as the island’s three million residents reacted to the news.

Holness revealed the news after the Independent had also reported that the country had “already started the process of removing the Queen as head of state” a process that would continue once the royal visit was over.

In an exclusive for the news site, race correspondent Nadine White reported that the matter was recently discussed at the “highest level” in government, and that “a senior figure within government has been appointed with the primary aim of seeing the nation transition to republic status”.

One source told White: “The government has had to start the process; the road to becoming a republic is not an easy one but they have long been coming under significant pressure to do it.”

The Cambridges’ royal tour of the Caribbean, widely billed as a “charm offensive” as other Caribbean Commonwealth countries consider whether to keep the Queen as their head of state, has been dogged by “anti-colonialism” demonstrations and demands for slavery reparations.

The duke and duchess were forced to cancel a visit to a farm in Belize after complaints from locals, while their arrival in Jamaica saw 350 activists gather outside the British High Commission holding signs with messages like “Princesses and Princes belong in fairytales… not in Jamaica” and “apologise”.

Speaking at a dinner hosted by the Governor-General of Jamaica on Thursday, Prince William expressed “profound sorrow” over Britain’s role in the slave trade, and said slavery “should never have happened” and “forever stains our history”.

Is the Commonwealth at risk?

The “slightly awkward” reception of the Cambridges illustrates “how much perception of the Monarchy has changed,” said The Telegraph.

The royal visit coincided with “a swelling wave of republicanism” in the Caribbean, and while Prince William may have done his best to “fend off anti-colonialist attacks” in his speech, it may be that it is all “too little too late”, said the paper.

“Is the monarchy rapidly becoming an anachronism in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the Commonwealth? And will the Commonwealth itself soon be a thing of the past – not just when the Queen sadly goes but even before that, as more countries follow Barbados and remove her as head of state?” asked the Telegraph’s Harry Mount.

“Kate and Wills are troupers”, wrote columnist Janice Turner in The Times. But “the fault lies with the palace”, which is “as always impervious to social change”. Sending “the royal A-team” on a tour of the Caribbean “won’t stop Jamaica, or 14 other former British colonies, becoming republics”, said Turner. “Indeed, gurning princes only remind people they’re still subjects of a distant Queen.”

And the legacy is “embarrassing” for Britain, too. “In a modern Commonwealth, we should meet these democratic nations eye-to-eye, without colonial cosplay. Kate and Wills must be self-aware enough to see their visit is not just angering Caribbean republicans, it’s making the rest of us cringe,” she concluded.

If the “palpable animosity” towards the tour “came as a shock” to the royals, “perhaps they have not been paying attention”, said Emma Loffhagen in the Evening Standard. She noted a “generational shift” in Jamaica had taken place over the last decade. Ten years ago, polls suggested 60% of Jamaicans supported the Queen. Now, 55% want to sever ties with her.

And “with the wounds of the Windrush scandal still fresh and searing, along with the global anti-colonial sentiment stirred by the Black Lives Matter movement” it is perhaps “no wonder” Jamaicans are “reconsidering what they get out of the Commonwealth deal”.

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