The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda has impressed upon Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex the importance of Britain paying slavery reparations to its former colonies following their arrival in the country for the platinum jubilee tour.
During an official meeting with the couple at his office in St John’s, the capital city, Gaston Browne also indicated that the nation intends to remove the Queen as its head of state “at some point”, though not in the immediate future.
The Earl and Countess of Wessex were urged by the premier to use their “diplomatic influence” to achieve the “reparatory justice” that is sought across the Caribbean.
While he claimed to understand that the royal family did not get involved in “contentious issues”, Mr Browne said he wanted the couple to “understand these issues ... so you can use your diplomatic influence in achieving the reparatory justice that we seek”.
“We’re not trying to embarrass you, we’re just trying to build awareness,” the prime minister told the couple.
“You may not necessarily comment on this issue as you represent an institution that doesn’t comment on contentious issues. Our civilisation should understand the atrocities that took place during colonialism and slavery, and the fact that we have to bring balance by having open discussions.”
“The reality is we have been left bereft of modern institutions such as universities and medicinal facilities,” Mr Browne added.
Highlighting his desire for Antigua and Barbuda to become a republic, he said: “As you know, we have the long, historical tradition as a colony of the UK, and we continue to have the Queen as our head of state – even though I should say, here, we aspire at some point to become a republic, but that is not currently on the cards, so the Queen will remain the head of state for some time to follow.”
In replying, Prince Edward did not acknowledge or address the issue of slavery reparations, adding that he “was not keeping notes” during Mr Browne’s speech so would be unable to respond to every point raised. The prince did, however, commend Antigua and Barbuda for the successful rollout of its Covid-19 vaccination programme.
The prime minister told the couple: “You will have noticed there are no protestations here,” adding that his citizens were not “holding placards”.
He explained that the decision not to protest was because they believed in having an “open and very objective discussion”.
Prior to the Wessexes’ Caribbean tour, the country’s government-appointed Reparations Support Commission penned an open letter to the couple, which referred to members of the royal family visiting former colonies and making “phoney” remarks about Britain’s colonial past. The letter stated: “For us, they are the source of genocide and of continuing deep international injury, injustice and racism. We hope you will respect us by not repeating the mantra. We are not simpletons.”
Monday’s visit comes after the royal couple were reportedly criticised by a Saint Lucia presenter, who asked how their tour benefits the islanders and how much taxpayers were paying for it.
Edward and Sophie have a full day of engagements planned for Monday’s visit, including a trip to the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, where they will meet former West Indies cricketers.
The countess was given a bouquet of flowers by 10-year-old Tsuniyah Freeland after landing at the VC Bird international airport to a guard of honour made up of soldiers from the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies