Caribbean island’s leader says ‘Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state’ and aims to achieve goal by November 2021
Barbados has decided to press ahead with long-running plans to remove the Queen as head of state, prompting speculation that other Caribbean islands may follow suit in the wake of the Windrush scandal and the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Barbados said it intended to become a republic by November 2021. The move requires a two-thirds majority in parliament, and there are no plans to have a referendum, something that is not required in the constitution but had been previously proposed.
The Barbados prime minister, Mia Mottley, a long-standing republican, quoted a warning by the Caribbean island nation’s first premier, Errol Barrow, against “loitering on colonial premises”.
The UK governor general, Dame Sandra Mason, reading Mottley’s two-hour speech at the state opening of parliament, as the Queen does for the UK government in Britain, said: “The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind. Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state.
“This is the ultimate statement of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving. Hence, Barbados will take the next logical step toward full sovereignty and become a republic by the time we celebrate our 55th anniversary of independence.
“Barbados has developed governance structures and institutions that mark us as what has been described as ‘the best governed Black society in the world’. Since independence, we Barbadians have sought constantly to improve our systems of law and governance so as to ensure they best reflect our characteristics and values as a nation.”
Mottley, the first female prime minister of the island and leader of the Barbados Labour party, is an influential figure in Caribbean politics as chair of Caricom, the 15-state regional body.
She won a landslide victory in the 2018 election, giving her party control of all 30 seats in the house of assembly. Her party won more than 70% of the popular vote, arguably giving her a mandate to remove the Queen as head of state without a referendum. But she said the government would offer a referendum on legalising same-sex civil unions, and will honour a commitment to hold a referendum on liberalising cannabis possession laws.
Framing her remarks in a post Covid-context, Mottley said: “We have entered a new era and the old things have passed away.”
The country gained its independence from Britain in 1966, though the Queen remains its constitutional monarch and head of state. A commission in the 1970s concluded there was insufficient public support for moving to a republic, and the idea was shelved. But in December 1998, a Barbadian constitutional review commission chaired by Sir Henry de Boulay Forde recommended republican status, a proposal adopted by the Barbados Labour party. A subsequent bill introducing a referendum on the proposal was deferred before finally becoming law in 2005.
In 2015, the then prime minister, Freundel Stuart, said “we have to move from a monarchical system to a republican form of government in the very near future”, setting an unfulfilled target date of the following year.
The country has been reeling from a Covid-induced recession with a double-digit decline in the economy, and massive fall-off in tourism.
Barbados would join Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica and Guyana if it proceeds with its plan to become a republic. Jamaica has also flagged such a transition, with the recently re-elected prime minister, Andrew Holness, saying he wanted to put the proposal to “a grand referendum”.
Barbados took an earlier step towards independence from the UK in 2003 when it replaced the London-based judicial committee of the privy council with the Caribbean court of justice, located in Trinidad, as its final appeals court.
In 2015, it said it wanted to become a republic within a year.
In the Caribbean, the Queen remains head of state of Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Grenada Jamaica, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines. There has been speculation some countries are waiting for the succession to spark a debate.
Australia held a referendum on removing the Queen as head of stated in 1999, but the proposal to become a republic was defeated by 45% to 55%.
Buckingham Palace said Barbados’s intention to remove the Queen as head of state and become a republic was “a matter for the government and people of Barbados”.
Downing Street said: “It’s a decision for Barbados and we will continue to have an enduring partnership.”