Barbados shared a head of state with Antigua until very recently. As we’re sure you’ll all remember, That head of state was the Queen of England. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is still the official head of state of Antigua, but she no longer reigns in Barbados. The island became a republic in 2021, and the people and politicians of Antigua have been watching Barbados very closely ever since for any sign of a decline in fortune since cutting ties with the British throne. Thus far, they’ve seen nothing. Barbados is no better or worse off without the Queen than it was with her nominally in charge, but the people of Barbados feel like they have better control of their destiny. It’s a feeling that many Antiguans envy.
Removing the British royals as head of state is a trend that’s caught on in many places recently. All over the world, we’ve seen former colonies and island outposts of the former British Empire declare themselves to be republics and wave goodbye to the Queen (or her subsequent replacements) as head of state. In many cases, these states and nations became independent in every way that mattered long ago but retained the Queen as a symbolic head of state. It’s a far cry from when so many nations were directly ruled, taxed, and otherwise dictated to by England.
During the days of the empire, England behaved like a modern-day casino. If you swap “players” for “states,” the business model of a good online casino is that players pay in and sometimes win but often lose. The casino makes money either way. That’s how taxing and spending on the colonies worked for England, and you need only look at the casino review website Sister Site to see how well the same old model works for casinos today. There are thousands of them out there, all run on the same basis of “the house always wins.” If a player loses too often, though, they’ll eventually walk away from the casino. If a state feels like it’s paying too much and getting too little in return, it will eventually cut ties. That’s what eventually happened to the majority of the British Empire.
These days, relations with the British are friendlier. They like to visit occasionally, but they don’t interfere in anything Antigua does. Nevertheless, the will of the people is clear. Like Barbados, the people of Antigua want to cut the final tie and stride out into the future as a republic. They’re increasingly confident in saying so, and recently Prime Minister Gaston Browne voiced the opinion to people who matter. Specifically, he said it to the Earl and Countess of Wessex. Prime Minister Browne chose his words carefully, but we shouldn’t underestimate the significance of a sitting Antiguan Prime Minister telling two members of the British royal family to their faces that he’d like his country to be a republic one day. He softened the blow by adding that it’s “not on the cards” at this precise moment, but many have seen it as the first step on a long road that will eventually see the end of all British involvement in Antigua. Jamaica recently expressed similar sentiments, so there may no longer be an island or nation in the Caribbean with the British monarch as head of state by the end of the current decade. Even with all of this being said, though, there may yet be another way.
At the same meeting where he expressed Antigua’s desire to one day become a republic – a meeting that must surely have been excruciatingly awkward for the Earl and Countess of Wessex – Prime Minister Browne said that Antigua had been neglected and left bereft” of medicinal facilities and universities. Going further, he said that “balance” must be brought in terms of reparatory justice for the atrocities of slavery and colonialism. The shadow of slavery is one that haunts modern Britain. It was raised as an issue multiple times towards the end of the country’s association with Barbados and is being raised again now. As much as modern Britain likes to divorce itself from the past, it can’t escape the fact that it was Britain that introduced slavery to the islands in 1674 when the first British-run sugar and tobacco plantation was opened. There were almost thirty thousand enslaved people living in Antigua and Barbuda by the time that slavery was abolished in 1807, but the sense of injustice that was left behind has never truly faded away.
We should note that Prime Minister Browne has not suggested that the British crown or the British government should pay for the creation of new universities and medical facilities in Antigua and Barbuda. Such a suggestion would be outrageous. Instead, he suggested that the Earl and Countess of Wessex could use their “diplomatic influence” to “build bridges” internationally and achieve the reparatory justice that Antigua is looking for. To put that another way, he wants the British royals to right the wrongs of the past by using their influence to secure international aid to finance the creation of new amenities in Antigua. Although he didn’t say so specifically, there was a hint that if the Wessexes could achieve a result for them, any discussions about severing ties with the Queen and becoming a republic might be put back on the shelf for the foreseeable future.
The reality is that being technically subject to the Queen doesn’t affect the lives of people in Antigua. It doesn’t require anything of them, and it doesn’t change the way that they’re treated. However, it’s a lingering reminder of a time when the island’s connection to the British throne meant everything, and our ancestors were forced to live and work in intolerable conditions without ever seeing the fruits of their labours. That’s why there’s an appetite for Antigua to become a republic, but if the British crown could demonstrate its value by securing Antigua a better deal on the international stage, that appetite night dissipate. The Prime Minister has served the ball into the royal family’s court. It’s up to them to decide what happens next.
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