Blair to express 'deep sorrow' over 'shameful' slave trade

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair is to express the Government's "deep sorrow" for the slave trade, which he will condemn as "profoundly shameful".

The Prime Minister's remarks, nearly 200 years after the Bill abolishing slavery was passed, are an attempt to atone for Britain's involvement in slavery. But Mr Blair, in a statement in The New Nation newspaper, will stop short of a full apology, angering some black leaders.

Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote said Mr Blair had not "even come close" to apologising in a statement to be published tomorrow.

"I don't know why Blair, on behalf of the Government, is afraid of apologising for the state's involvement in what was an act of immense barbarity with a dangerous legacy which is still visible today," Mr Woolley said. "At the very least, Blair should apologise and the state should begin to repay some of the lost wealth to Africa."

Mr Blair's remarks come ahead of next March's bicentenary of the Slave Trade Act. Between 10m and 28m Africans were sold into slavery between 1450 and the early 19th century. At the height of the trade, Britain transported more than 300,000 slaves a year on ships where slaves were shackled below decks and sometimes thrown overboard alive if they were considered too sickly to survive the crossing. The slaves worked on plantations in America and the West Indies and vast fortunes were accumulated by British and colonial slave-owning families.

Mr Blair will say that it is "hard to believe what would now be a crime against humanity was legal at the time". He will add: "I believe the bicentenary offers us a chance not just to say how profoundly shameful the slave trade was - how we condemn its existence utterly and praise those who fought for its abolition - but also to express our deep sorrow that it ever could have happened and rejoice at the better times we live in today."

Baroness Amos, the Leader of the House of Lords, has been leading the campaign for an apology for Britain's role in the slave trade.

But there has been concern in some government circles that a full apology could provoke calls for reparations. In 1997, the Prime Minister said he "reflected" on deaths caused by the Irish potato famine.