(CNN) – Queen Elizabeth II will have one less kingdom after this week, when Barbados severed its last imperial ties with Britain by removing the 95-year-old head of state and declaring itself a republic.
The former British colony – which gained independence in 1966 – revived its plan to become a republic last September with the country’s Governor-General, Sandra Mason “It is time to completely leave our colonial past behind,” he said.
Mason, a 73-year-old former jurist, will be sworn in as the first president of the island of less than 300,000 people at a Monday night party. The Barbados Parliament elected Mason last month.
Present at the festivities will be Prince Carlos, Heir to the British throne and future leader of UK Parliament. This is an organization with 54 members from most of the former British territories. He accepted an invitation from Prime Minister Mia Amor Motley to be the guest of honor at the transitional festivities, according to Clarence House.
“Becoming a republic means coming of age,” said Jay Hewitt, who served as British High Commissioner to Barbados from 2014 to 2018. His mortgage, he’s returning the keys to his parents because he says we’re going to move on.”
This is the first time in nearly three decades that a kingdom has chosen to remove a British monarch as head of state. The last country to do so was the island of Mauritius in 1992. Barbados, like that country, intends to remain part of the Commonwealth.
A royal source told CNN last year that the decision rests with the government and people of Barbados. He added that it was not “out of nowhere” and that it was “publicly discussed and talked about” many times.
The change is taking place nearly 400 years since the first English ship reached the easternmost island in the Caribbean.
Barbados was the oldest British colony, founded in 1627. It was “ruled by the English crown incessantly until 1966,” according to Richard Drayton, professor of imperial and world history at King’s College London.
“At the same time, Barbados also provided an important source of private wealth in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,” he said. He added that many made great family fortunes from sugar and slavery.
“It was the first laboratory of English colonization in the tropics,” added Drayton, who grew up in the country.
“In Barbados, English laws were passed first, which distinguishes the rights of people they call ‘Negroes’ from others. It is the primacy that is established in Barbados in terms of economy and law, which was later transferred to Jamaica, North Carolina and the rest of the Caribbean, along with the institutions of That colony.”
The writing has long been hung on the wall for a break between Barbados and Britain. Many have called for the removal of Queen’s status over the years, according to Cynthia Barrow Giles, professor of constitutional and political governance at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Cave Hill, Barbados.
She told CNN that the desire to become a republic is more than 20 years old. And “reflected the contribution to the consultations of governance in the island and its diaspora.”
“The conclusion at the time was very simple,” Barrow Giles said. “Barbados has reached a stage of maturity in its political development where what should have been was not an integral part of the movement towards independence for practical reasons. Fifty-five years later, this failure was rectified by a Prime Minister determined to complete the conspicuously stalled nation-building process over the past four decades or so.”
He explained that while most Barbadians support the relocation, there has been some concern about this approach.
Others have questioned the period of just over a year given by the government itself to make the transition, so that the birth of the republic coincides with the 55th anniversary of the country’s independence on Tuesday.
Hewitt believes Motley’s government wanted to move quickly “to try to divert attention from a very difficult time in Barbados”.
Operation in Barbados
“The world is suffering and struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, but for Barbados, as an economy based on tourism, it has been especially difficult,” he said. “If you accept the idea that the republic is a system handed over to the people, our challenge is that not many consultations have taken place to become a republic. Yes, it was included in the Throne Address. But the people of Barbados were not part of this journey.”
He added, “What we’re dealing with now are just ceremonial and cosmetic changes, and I feel that if we really went to the Republic, it should have been a meaningful trip, where the people of Barbados were involved in the whole conceptualization process to make that happen.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Ronnie Yearwood, activist and law professor at UWI’s Cave Hill campus in Barbados. While he also supports the proclamation of the republic, he also feels “deprived of the opportunity to enjoy my beautiful moment”.
“The process has been so poorly managed, the government has made a decision as to what kind of republic we shall become, without asking me, the elector, the citizen, what form of a republic do you want?”
The Barbados government focused on the “endgame” rather than the transition process, a move that Yearwood described as “backward”.
Yearwood said he and many other people felt the government should have held a referendum and engaged in a longer period of public consultation before making the change. He added, “If you’re going to do it, do it holistically, and remove everything. You don’t fragment the constitution.”
Will other countries follow?
Prime Minister Motley, who recently stunned world leaders at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, did not need a referendum on the issue to move forward. In May, his administration created an advisory committee for the state’s Republican transition. The 10-member group was tasked with helping manage the transition from the monarchy to the republic. The only hurdle was getting a two-thirds majority in parliament, a relatively straightforward process given that his party has held a majority since its landslide victory in 2018.
Barrow Giles said the government “was able to determine what is legally and politically required to patrol the constitution,” adding that the change in Barbados “is in line with the path taken by other jurisdictions.”
“The fact that Prince Charles is in Barbados on this important occasion for the country is evidence of the lack of opposition to the change from the royal family and fundamental support for the transition,” he added.
According to Drayton, with this friendly separation, other countries could follow the example of Barbados.
“I imagine that this issue will exacerbate the controversy now within Jamaica as well as in other parts of the Caribbean,” he said.
“The decision in some way does not reflect any assessment of the Windsor House. I think it more reflects the sense that the people of Barbados now think that it is a bit absurd for their head of state to be determined by the circumstances of birth in the family… which lies 6,000 kilometers away.”
Hewitt also predicts that more countries may choose to secede from the British monarchy. But she indicates that this will happen after the end of the reign of Elizabeth II. Simply because the Queen is held in such high esteem.
“People will see doing this now as a personal insult to her. But I feel that once the crown has passed, people will feel it’s time.”
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