Royal Editor Chris Ship reports from Jamaica, where the nation's Prime Minister has been unexpectedly blunt with William and Kate
Jamaica’s prime minister has effectively given notice that the country will remove the Queen as Head of State and become a new republic. Andrew Holness was speaking in front of his royal guests, Prince William and Kate, when they met him on their official visit to Jamaica.
William and Kate, who arrived in Kingston on Tuesday, stood and listened politely as the Jamaican PM spoke about “moving on” and told them that issues, such as addressing the horrors of slavery, remain “unresolved”.
There have been protests in Jamaica against the royal visit and calls to ditch the Queen from her role here. But there were also many crowds who turned up to welcome them in Kingston at a community football match on Tuesday evening. Mr Holness told William and Kate: “We are very, very happy to have you and I hope you will have seen the warm welcome of the people.”
Many have protested and others have welcomed the royals, as Royal Editor Chris Ship explains
But he then moved to talk about the fierce debate which has been raging in the country about its future and about Britain’s role in the slave trade. “Jamaica is a very free and liberal country and the people are very expressive and I’m certain that you will have seen the spectrum of expression yesterday," he said referencing both the protests and the big crowds of supporters.
The prime minister went on: “There are issues here which are, as you would know, unresolved, but your presence gives an opportunity for these issues to be placed in context, put front and centre and to be addressed as best we can. “But Jamaica is, as you can see, a country that is very proud of its history, very proud of what we have achieved and we are moving on and we intend to attain, in short order, our developing goals and to fulfil our true ambitions… as an independent, developed, prosperous country.”
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It was a clear statement of intent that Mr Holness plans to push through plans to ditch the Queen as Head of State. Jamaica gained independence from Britain 60 years ago, in August 1962, but it became a Commonwealth Realm with the Queen as Sovereign and a Governor-General representing her in the country.
There were 15 such Realms until last year, when Barbados officially became the world’s newest republic. There was an assumption then that Jamaica would follow Barbados’ lead.
Prince Charles flew to Bridgetown, Barbados for the official handover ceremony on November 30 when the former Governor-General was installed as the country’s first president. It now seems certain that Jamaica will also start the necessary legislative process to have a president instead of a Monarch.
Prince William and Kate were expecting this leg of their three-country tour to be diplomatically sensitive – and so it has turned out to be. The Duke of Cambridge will address the issue of slavery in a speech here on Wednesday night but he will not talk about reparations – the other issue which is hotly contested here. Campaigners want Britain to pay compensation for the financial gains of the slave trade which did not end until 1834 and resulted in hundreds of thousands of West Africans being shipped to the Caribbean. Prince Charles called slavery a “stain” on Britain past last year. A number of Caribbean countries are Commonwealth Realms, including Belize and The Bahamas – the other two countries on the Cambridge’s itinerary this week. But the debate about the Queen’s role in those countries is much less alive than it is here in Jamaica.