Two Caribbean visits by British royal family members this year unwittingly gave fresh impetus to demands for republicanism in the multiple countries that still have the UK monarch as their head of state. The visits were met with protests and criticism at every stop. Unaddressed calls for the damaging legacy of colonialism and slavery to be acknowledged, and for reparations, are fuelling a longstanding movement for republicanism. Barbados switched to a president as head of state in 2021 and Jamaica looks set to follow suit. Five other Caribbean constitutional monarchies have now declared their intention to become republics.

Queen Elizabeth II isn’t merely the head of state of the UK: she holds the same position in 14 other otherwise independent countries. Dubbed ‘Commonwealth realms’, these former British colonies are overwhelmingly located in the Caribbean. The Queen is still head of state of eight out of 12 former British Caribbean colonies: Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines. But the times are changing.

Three of the four Commonwealth Caribbean republics chose to have their own head of state in the 1970s. Guyana transitioned to a republic in 1970, four years after independence. Trinidad and Tobago gained independence in 1962 and became a republic in 1976, while Dominica became a republic on independence in 1978.

After that, it took 43 years for the next nation, Barbados, to end the monarch’s sovereign power. Since then, demands to break free from the British crown have become more vocal. Six other countries have recently declared their intention to become republics.

Ill-fated visits

It was against this backdrop that Caribbean countries hosted members of the royal family during two tours this year. In each instance, they were greeted with anti-monarchy protests that called not just for republic status – but crucially, for reparations.

In March 2022, the Bahamas, Belize and Jamaica hosted a royal visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. At every stop, the royals faced criticism and calls for change.

At the start of the tour in Belize, the couple were forced to cancel part of their itinerary following protests by the Indigenous Mayan community of Indian Creek Village over a land dispute between villagers and Flora and Fauna International, a conservation charity the Duke is a patron of. Residents also voiced opposition over plans to use a community football pitch as a helicopter landing pad, which they viewed as a typically colonialist approach to land appropriation and usage.

The second leg of the tour in the Bahamas faced similar issues, with protesters showing up at scheduled appearances. But it was Jamacia that offered the biggest show of defiance.

Protests in Jamaica began before the couple arrived on the island. In anticipation of the visit, a coalition of 100 prominent Jamaicans – artists, academics, politicians and others – signed an open letter demanding an apology for the royal family’s role in the slave trade and reparations for the crime of slavery. Protests continued upon arrival, ramped up and organised by grassroots organisations such as the Advocates Network, offering a significant show of antipathy towards the monarchy.

When the Earl and Countess of Wessex arrived in the Caribbean a month later to continue celebrations for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, they were also greeted with resistance. Across the Caribbean, they encountered people holding banners with statements such as ‘down with neo-colonialism’ and ‘Britain your debt is outstanding’.

The couple were presented with a letter from the Antigua and Barbuda Reparations Support Commission demanding accountability. The sentiment was such that they had to call off a planned trip to Grenada. The controversy generated by the visits received significant media attention. A palpable mood shift was in the air.

The movement’s goals

From country to country, two consistent themes drive the movement. The first is the right to self-determination. The Queen’s role as head of state is largely symbolic, but many feel the relationship perpetuates colonial subservience and undermines independence.

Activists in favour of republicanism feel their countries cannot be truly free while remaining a constitutional monarchy and swearing fealty to the Crown. To them, republicanism is a symbol of national maturity and self-confidence.

The second key driver of recent activism is the demand for accountability over colonial history and its present-day legacies. Insistent calls are being made for an official apology for the royal family’s direct role in the slave trade, and for reparations for the descendants of African people who were victims of chattel slavery.

Voices from the frontline

Rosalea Hamilton is founding director of the Institute of Law and Economics and member of the Advocates Network.


For those of us who are part of the Advocates Network, our goal is not just removing the Queen as head of state, which we see as a necessary first step, but also deepening our democracy and ensuring the establishment of a state where the Jamaican people are sovereign.

The movement for republicanism gathered strength in response to the royal visit to Jamaica, which was viewed as inappropriate not only because it was during the throes of the pandemic, but because we were – and still are – grappling with pre-existing issues that have been exacerbated due to the pandemic. These include high murder rates, undereducated children, child abuse, gender-based violence and inadequate housing.

Many of us in the Advocates Network are actively involved in tackling these problems, which we view as rooted in our colonial past. We think it’s time not only to move away from the monarchy, but also fix these colonial legacy problems.

The royal visit was therefore seen as a distraction. But it also provided an opportunity for Jamaicans to learn more about the royal family and their active role in the trafficking and enslavement of Africans. Jamaicans became more aware of the details of past atrocities and have begun questioning the role of the Queen as head of state after 60 years of independence. Social media has played a big role in helping to build awareness and deepen understanding.

But there are also several other factors at play. The world is changing. For us in the Caribbean and across the Black African world, something shifted with the murder of George Floyd in the USA and the Black Lives Matter movement. As the entire world saw the video of a white man kneeling on the neck of a Black man, we found that our Governor-General – the official who represents the Queen in Jamaica – was wearing an insignia with a white angel standing on the head of a devil depicted as Black. It was a shocking reminder of the link between our colonial past and our institutions today.

That woke people up. The George Floyd murder, and the many racist incidents that followed in the USA, the UK and elsewhere in Europe, reminded us that we still live in a world where people are treated as less than human based on the colour of their skin. The unheard calls for reparations are becoming louder as we try to come to grips with a past that is still with us.

The movement for republicanism can therefore be seen as a rejection of our colonial past and its modern-day expressions in the form of racism, discrimination, inequity and more.

The UK has a great opportunity to rebuild this historic relationship on less exploitative and more humane terms. Engaging in a meaningful reparatory justice process can create a framework to build a mutually beneficial relationship that puts the past behind us and enable us to build a better future for generations to come.


This is an edited extract of our conversation with Rosalea. Read the full interview here.

A perfect storm

Debates about republic status circled for decades without any change. St Vincent and the Grenadines attempted to discard the crown twice – first in 1999 and then in 2009 – but both times people decided against it in referendums. This time the mood seems different, and there are several causes.

One factor is undeniably the influence of Barbados and its decision to remove the Queen as head of state last November. Barbados, colloquially known as ‘Little England’, was the birthplace of British slave society and the Caribbean country with the strongest ties, cultural and otherwise, to the UK. Its decision to become a republic set a precedent. It stirred nationalist pride across the region and renewed debate about following suit.

Some have made a connection with the resurgent Black Lives Movement in the USA: its demands for racial equality and the dismantling of racist institutions resonate strongly in the Caribbean.

Another factor is the timing of the royal visits. Countries are still recovering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and are barely coping with rising debt and inflation that is intensifying already deep economic inequality. Set against this background, the pomp and pageantry of the royal visit struck a sour note.

The extravagance demonstrated by the visiting royals offered a reminder of colonial exploitation and the way the British Empire drained the wealth of the region. A photo of smiling Black children reaching through fences towards the royal couple, as though they were caged, went viral because it offered a ready meme explicitly connecting exploitation and privilege.

While the Queen remains well liked, there is no corresponding warmth towards her heir. Many view the institution as outdated and unnecessary. It doesn’t help that a string of recent scandals, including Prince Andrew’s settlement in a sexual assault case and alleged racist treatment of Meghan Markle, have further stained the royal brand.

Additionally, the Windrush scandal – when hundreds of Commonwealth citizens who lived in the UK for decades were wrongly detained and in many cases deported to Caribbean countries – deepened disenchantment in the region with the UK government and the associated royal family.

All this has dented the popularity of the monarchy and hastened the process to create new Caribbean republics, giving fresh momentum to longstanding aspirations. Over the years, there has been growing awareness of the legacies of colonialism, with more people coming to articulate the relationship between colonialism and racial oppression. Calls for royal accountability have grown but have not been met with the desired response, only fuelling demands to break free of the institution.

The UK has a great opportunity to rebuild this historic relationship on less exploitative and more humane terms. Engaging in a meaningful reparatory justice process can create a framework to build a mutually beneficial relationship that puts the past behind us and enable us to build a better future for generations to come.


Jamaica next?

The key moment in Barbados came with the passage of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2021 to transfer the powers of the Governor General – the Queen’s representative on the island – to an elected president. The bill needed the support of two-thirds of members of both houses of parliament, and it passed overwhelmingly.

The bill came after years of campaigning that succeeded in gaining the support of prominent politicians, including Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who promised a transition to a republic on the 2018 campaign trail.

Now change is on the horizon for Jamaica. On 7 June, the country’s Minister of Legal and Constitutional authorities announced plans to make the country a republic in time for the 2025 election. To facilitate this process, a new ministry, the Ministry of Legal and Constitutional Affairs, was established and the government has begun consultations with constitutional experts and republicanism advocates to ensure a smooth transition.

Though the outcome is not certain, the move is supported by both main parties in parliament. This is significant because prior attempts failed due to lack of opposition support. This time around, the two-thirds majority needed as part of the process seems within reach.

Looking forward

The republicanism movement is having a moment: openly supported by multiple governments, widely covered by the media and championed by significant sections of the public. Everything seems to indicate that the curtain is ready to fall on constitutional monarchies in the Caribbean. However, the success of the movement is not guaranteed, and each country will face its own challenges in reaching the finish line.

Notably, all three countries that removed the monarch as head of state after independence – Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago – did so through a parliamentary bill. But of the constitutional monarchies that remain, only Belize would be able to become a republic by decision of its National Assembly; the other seven would require a referendum.

Requirements for referendums differ across countries. In the Bahamas, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis and St Lucia, referendums need a simple majority of voters. In Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines, a two-thirds majority is required.

In Jamaica, polls show a majority of voters support the move to make the country a republic, but in other countries the public appetite doesn’t appear to be strong enough to carry a referendum. While momentum is growing and eventual change seems inevitable, a patchwork pattern across the Commonwealth Caribbean is to be expected in the short-term.

Many steps need to follow to address the legacy and lasting impacts of colonialism in the Caribbean. The persistence of homophobic laws inherited from the British imperial regime, the enduring structural oppression and stigmatisation of Black people and centuries of intensive wealth extraction that suppressed economic development and caused lasting poverty – these all need to addressed.

Embracing republicanism is no panacea. It needs to be a change that deepens democracy and makes governments more accountable to people. But it’s potentially a key step forward, and one more and more countries seem prepared to take.


  • As demands for constitutional change grow, Caribbean governments should hold referendums on their countries’ republican status.
  • The British royal family must acknowledge its role in the slave trade and offer a formal apology.
  • The UK government should open dialogue about a strategy for reparations for colonial crimes.

Cover photo by Reuters/Gilbert Bellamy via Gallo Images