Barbados halts £3m plan to purchase Tory MP’s former slavery plantation amid backlash

Exclusive: Following widespread backlash, Bajan prime minister Mia Mottley has announced that the acquisition will be paused in light of public anger with the move and a public consultation will take place

Nadine White
Race Correspondent
Wednesday 24 April 2024 12:12 BST
Charles Acknowledges ‘Atrocity Of Slavery’ As Barbados Becomes A Republic Original Video M204490

The Barbados government has halted plans to buy a £3m former plantation from a British Conservative MP whose family profited from slavery.

Richard Drax, the MP for South Dorset, owns a 617-acre land in Barbados that was once operated as a sugar plantation by his ancestors in the 17th century, where thousands of enslaved African people were forced to work.

The government had planned to pay market value for his land to provide housing for Barbadians, while simultaneously pursuing the politician for reparations over his family’s instrumental role in slavery.

However, following widespread backlash prime minister Mia Mottley has now announced that the acquisition will be paused in light of Barbadians’ anger with the move. A public consultation will take place.

Up to 30,000 slaves worked at Drax Hall plantation over 200 years (Nathan Fisher/Wiki Commons)

“I understand the concerns of many Barbadians, who may feel that they have been robbed of the opportunity of having an appropriate settlement for the reparations that ought to be made as a result of the blood, sweat and tears of Barbadians over centuries,” Ms Mottley said in a video statement released on Wednesday.

“I want to make it clear that this is not a matter that we take lightly.

“Given the conversation, I believe that it is appropriate for us to pause the acquisition to allow for greater conversation to take place, and also for us to be able to see where we are, in terms of being able to get some kind of reasonable settlement with Mr Drax, recognising that in our conversations – without prejudice to anything else – he is aware that the government of Barbados feels strongly about this and will pursue these matters.”

Ms Mottley has pledged to build 10,000 homes to meet demand across the nation which has seen 20,000 housing applications.

However, condemnation of the Barbados government’s plans to acquire Drax Hall, once described as “killing field” for African people, was swift.

Trevor Prescod, chair of the Barbados National Taskforce on Reparations and MP, said: “What a bad example this is. Reparations and Drax Hall are now top of the global agenda. How do we explain this to the world?

Richard Drax, MP for South Dorset, is a descendant of plantation owners that benefited from slavery (Getty)

“The government should not be entering into any [commercial] relationship with Richard Drax, especially as we are negotiating with him regarding reparations.”

Others, including Barbados poet laureate Esther Phillips, described the acquisition prospect as an “atrocity”, whereby descendants of enslaved African people are effectively compensating a descendant of enslavers.

“He should be giving us this land as reparations, not further enriching himself … at the expense of Barbadians. As Barbadians, we must speak out against this,” she said.

“Barbados is a country that is governed by the rule of law,” Ms Mottley continued in her statement.

“We have never made it a habit, nor am I aware of any example, where we have expropriated people’s land. When people have land that is a subject of compulsory acquisition: by law, we are due to pay for it.

“At the same time, that does not preclude us from [aggressively pursuing], both through our advocacy and as we are seeking to do in recent times, through the preparation of our legal options with respect to being able to take action, not only against the owners of Drax plantation but also against all others who have contributed to the condition of this country being, regrettably, one of the worst examples of modern racism in the Americas.”

An aerial image of the Drax plantation (Nathan Fisher/Wiki Commons)

A senior valuation surveyor said that the market value for land in this instance would be priced at around Bds$150,000 (£60,000) for each acre, according to a report in The Guardian. At this price, the property could cost around Bds$8m (£3.2m).

Ms Mottley also said she is “not happy” about the pace of ongoing discussions with Mr Drax regarding the issue of reparations which they’ve been urging him to pay since 2022.

Up to 30,000 enslaved African people lived and died on the Drax estate over 200 years between the plantation’s establishment in the 1620s and the abolition of slavery in 1833, according to historians, and the family generated extraordinary wealth from the barbaric practice.

The Caribbean nation was first taken over by the British in the 1620s, making it one of the earliest colonies.

From that point up until the abolition of slavery, it is estimated that over a quarter of a million African people (387,000) were trafficked there and forced to work.

Mottley at the 2021 handover event alongside guests including Rihanna and then Prince Charles, officially parting ways with the British monarchy’s reign over Barbados (Getty)

Following abolition, the British government paid 45,000 Britons who still owned enslaved African people huge sums of money in compensation including the Drax family, who received around £4,293 (over £500,000 in today’s money).

Mr Drax, 66, is reportedly worth £150m and the seventh member of his family to sit in the House of Commons.

In response to ongoing calls for him to pay reparations, though, the lawmaker has insisted despite his family’s past being “deeply, deeply regrettable”, no one can be held responsible “for what happened many hundreds of years ago”.

Meanwhile, he benefits from the wealth and privilege accrued from the blood and sweat spent by African people hundreds of years ago.

In 2021, Barbados removed the British monarch as head of state and became a republic.

Mr Drax has been approached for comment.

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