May 8, 2023 –The Prime Minister of a Caribbean nation has told the BBC his country is “not totally free” as long as King Charles III remains head of state.
Dr Terrance Drew said that a public consultation on whether St Kitts and Nevis should become a republic would begin during his leadership.
He also said he would welcome an apology from the monarchy for its historic links to the slave trade.
Buckingham Palace told the BBC the King takes slavery “profoundly seriously”.
Last month the Palace announced it was co-operating with an independent study into the relationship between the British monarchy and the transatlantic slave trade, when millions of African men, women and children were shipped to the Americas for use as slaves from the 16th to 19th Centuries.
Speaking to the BBC in the St Kitts and Nevis capital Basseterre, Dr Drew described the research as a positive move.
“I think that acknowledging that… something wrong was done, acknowledging it and apologising for it, is a step in the right direction,” he said.
After being approached for comment, Buckingham Palace said the King previously pledged to deepen his understanding of slavery’s impact. “That learning process has continued with vigour and determination since His Majesty’s Accession,” it read.
The statement also added that the monarch “has long acknowledged the discussion about constitutional arrangements”, and referred to a speech to Commonwealth leaders last year when King Charles III said: “I want to say clearly, as I have said before, that each member’s constitutional arrangement, as republic or monarchy, is purely a matter for each member country to decide.”
Last year the Dutch government issued a formal apology for its role in the slave trade. Prime Minister Mark Rutte said slavery should be recognised as “a crime against humanity”.
St Kitts and Nevis were the first Caribbean islands that English colonisers permanently settled. Locals still refer to the dual island federation as the “mother colony”.
Built upon sugar and slavery, it’s a legacy that lingers today. And if there is one place that illustrates St Kitts and Nevis’ colonial past, it’s Brimstone Hill Fortress.
Designed by the British starting in the 17th Century, it was built and maintained by enslaved Africans.
King Charles visited Brimstone Hill back in 2019. Local historian Leonard Stapleton also gave the monarch a tour of the island while he was visiting.
“It was very exciting,” Leonard told the BBC. “I still feel proud, having been tasked with that important job.”
The historian’s respect and affection for the Royal Family are clear. But he’s also aware that symbols matter.
While he said the Royal Family are “kind and genuine human beings” in person, the Crown “represents the same force that was behind the enslavement of Africans.”
Leonard Stapleton believes it is time to update some of the language of governance in St Kitts and Nevis.
“One of the things that kind of irks us as a people is when our leaders are being sworn in, we still hear them swear allegiance to the King or the Queen and their heirs and successors,” he said. “We definitely want to move to the point where we can swear allegiance to our own beliefs, our constitution.”
But he remains hopeful. “I do believe that King Charles is going to do something positive about past injustices. I am very confident. As I’ve said, I’ve met him.”