Barbados removes Queen Elizabeth as head of state – symbolic nothingness?

Nii Ntreh Sep 20, 2020 at 09:00am

September 20, 2020 at 09:00 am | News, Opinions & Features

Nii Ntreh

Nii Ntreh | Associate Editor

September 20, 2020 at 09:00 am | News, Opinions & Features

Image via Shutterstock

In a move that will coincide with the 55th anniversary of its independence, the island of Barbados will be removing Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state, Prime Minister Mia Mottley announced on Tuesday.

Although the Queen has no political control over Barbados, she has remained its legal and ceremonial head since 1966 after Britain granted the Caribbean nation independence. Other former colonies around the world maintain this kind of formal relationship with the Crown and London.

But now, “[T]he time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind,” according to a speech written by Mottley and read in parliament by Governor-General Sandra Mason.

The Britain-appointed position of Governor-General will go away when Barbados becomes a republic in November 2021.

Delivering the message prepared to inspire patriotism, Mason declared that “Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state” as an “ultimate statement of confidence” of self-determination. But are there material impediments this decision removes and what does it mean for former British colonies like Jamaica who maintain the Queen as their head of state?

More than symbolism

It was quite clear from the speech delivered at the opening of parliament that the Barbados government views the removal of the Queen as a politically necessary action and not just symbolic.

Describing the small nation as ‘the best governed Black society in the world’, Mottley’s speech placed the government’s intention within the context of the historical anti-colonial struggle. The speech invoked the sentiments of the country’s first prime minister, Errol Barrow, who had warned a nascent nation against “loitering on colonial premises”.

If Mottley’s decades-long stance as a republican did not give it away, quoting anti-colonial phrases should give a clear picture of what the current government in Barbados thinks of the monarchy.

To finalize the process, Mottley requires a parliamentary vote with a two-thirds majority sharing her opinion. But having led the Barbados Labor Party to capture all of the 30 seats in the legislature, this should not be a worry for the country’s first female prime minister.

It is still not quite clear how becoming a republic is meant to offer a further boost to one of the Caribbean’s more prosperous islands. Barbados, like many other independent monarchies, is already a sovereign nation in complete charge of its internal affairs.

But this seems like a secondary matter for the government vis-a-vis the philosophical victory of republicanism.

More countries to follow?

The last country to remove the Queen as head of state was Mauritius in 1992. But Queen Elizabeth still reigns as the monarch over 14 territories and countries across the world.

Mottley is an influential regional politician but it is hard to see how Barbados’ decision will be followed by other countries in the Caribbean.

Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago as well as Dominica all became republics in the 1970s, while in Jamaica republicanism was pushed as a promise by the leader of the People’s National Party (PNP), Peter Phillips, but his party eventually lost the September 3 polls.

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