“Becoming a republic is a coming of age,” said Guy Hewitt, who served as Barbados high commissioner to the United Kingdom between 2014 and 2018. “I make the analogy to when a child grows up and gets their own house, gets their own mortgage, gives their parents back the keys because it says we are moving on.”
Barbados’s decision marks the first time in nearly three decades that a realm has opted to remove the British monarch as head of state. The last nation to do so was the island of Mauritius in 1992. Like that country, Barbados too intends to remain part of the Commonwealth.
A royal source told CNN last year the decision was a matter for the government and people of Barbados, adding that it was not “out of the blue” and had been “mooted and publicly talked” about many times.
The changeover comes nearly 400 years since the first English ship arrived on the most easterly of the Caribbean islands.
Barbados was Britain’s oldest colony, settled in 1627, and “governed in an unbroken way by the English Crown to 1966,” according to Richard Drayton, professor of imperial and global history at Kings College London.
“At the same time, Barbados also provided an important source of private wealth in 17th and 18th-century England,” he said, adding that many made substantial family fortunes from sugar and slavery.
“It was the first laboratory for English colonialism in the tropics,” added Drayton, who grew up in the country.
“It is in Barbados that the English first pass laws, which distinguish the rights of people who they call ‘Negroes,’ from those who are not, and it is the precedence set in Barbados in terms of economy and law, which then come to be transferred to Jamaica, and the Carolinas and the rest of the Caribbean, along with institutions of that colony.”
A decades-old debate
The writing has long been on the wall for a break-up between Barbados and Britain, with many calling for the removal of the Queen’s status over the years, according to Cynthia Barrow-Giles, a professor of constitutional governance and politics at The University of the West Indies (UWI) at Cave Hill, Barbados.
She told CNN the desire to become a republic is more than 20 years old and “reflected the input in the governance consultations across the island and its diaspora.”
“The conclusion then was very simple,” Barrow-Giles said. “Barbados had reached the stage of maturity in its political evolution where what ought to have been part and parcel of the movement to independence was not for pragmatic reasons. Fifty-five years later this failure is rectified by a prime minister who is determined to complete the process of nation-building which has obviously stalled for the last four decades or so.”
She explained that while most Barbadians are supportive of the transition, there has been some concern over the approach to it.
Others have questioned the…