Why Do Caribbean Countries Want to Leave the Monarchy Now?

Of the 14 countries beyond the United Kingdom that retain Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, at least six in the Caribbean want out.

By , an intern at Foreign Policy.
People protest in Jamaica.
People protest in Jamaica.
People calling for slavery reparations protest outside the entrance of the British High Commission during the visit of Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, in Kingston, Jamaica, on March 22. RICARDO MAKYN/AFP via Getty Images

Officials in at least six countries in the Caribbean where Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is head of state have signaled they intend to remove the monarch as their sovereign. These countries follow Barbados, which removed the queen as its head of state to become the region’s newest republic in November 2021.

The calls, made over the course of the past two months, have come as members of the British royal family made two separate trips to the Caribbean this year, drawing protests at every stop. Prince Edward and Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, will wrap up their leg of a six-day Caribbean trip Thursday after visiting Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. A planned stop in Grenada was postponed, Buckingham Palace said in a statement. Prince William and Kate, the  Duchess of Cambridge, visited Belize, Jamaica, and the Bahamas in March. 

Local protesters in Belize and Jamaica called for a formal apology by the royals for their family’s role in the enslavement and brutalization of Africans and demanded reparations. An official has been appointed to oversee the process of decoupling in Jamaica, reported the Guardian, and the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, told Edward and Sophie in a meeting that his country intended to become a republic “one day.”

Officials in at least six countries in the Caribbean where Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is head of state have signaled they intend to remove the monarch as their sovereign. These countries follow Barbados, which removed the queen as its head of state to become the region’s newest republic in November 2021.

The calls, made over the course of the past two months, have come as members of the British royal family made two separate trips to the Caribbean this year, drawing protests at every stop. Prince Edward and Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, will wrap up their leg of a six-day Caribbean trip Thursday after visiting Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. A planned stop in Grenada was postponed, Buckingham Palace said in a statement. Prince William and Kate, the  Duchess of Cambridge, visited Belize, Jamaica, and the Bahamas in March. 

Local protesters in Belize and Jamaica called for a formal apology by the royals for their family’s role in the enslavement and brutalization of Africans and demanded reparations. An official has been appointed to oversee the process of decoupling in Jamaica, reported the Guardian, and the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, told Edward and Sophie in a meeting that his country intended to become a republic “one day.”


Why is the queen the head of state of these countries?

All six Caribbean countries that have indicated they plan to remove the queen as their head of state—Belize, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Kitts and Nevis—were colonized by the British. But when each nation gained independence from Britain during the second half of the 20th century, Elizabeth retained her post as sovereign, and each country remained a member of the Commonwealth, a grouping of 54 former British colonies.

There are 14 countries outside of the United Kingdom where the queen is head of state: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Tuvalu. In these countries, known as Commonwealth realms, the queen appoints a representative—such as a governor general—recommended by the popularly elected leader, such as the prime minister or president. 

Countries that are members of the Commonwealth—but are not Commonwealth realms—do not have the queen as their monarch, electing a head of state from among their own people.

All former British colonies-turned-republics, including Barbados, are still members of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth does not make laws but provides trade links between countries and, in some cases, a foundation for resolving disputes. While a majority of member countries have historical ties to the British Empire, the last two countries to join, Mozambique and Rwanda, never experienced British colonial rule.


What do the six Caribbean countries want to happen?

Countries that have called to remove the queen as their sovereign want exactly that: the ability to elect their own head of state, independent of an external body, to oversee domestic and foreign affairs. But the issue goes beyond a formality: It would be a symbolic move for formerly colonized countries to unlink themselves from the former empire that enslaved and brutalized their ancestors.

“The move towards republicanism is grounded in the belief that it’s time for former colonized nations to really live their independence and claim self-determination and not be under a monarchical system,” said Verene Shepherd, the chair of Jamaica’s National Commission on Reparations and chair of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. 

The British royal family has not taken ownership of its past wrongs, Shepherd said. There has been no commitment by the royals to formally own up to and acknowledge their family’s history of slavery. Although in a speech in Jamaica in March William expressed “profound sorrow,” saying slavery “should never have happened,” observers noted that he stopped short of apologizing, which is what advocates in Jamaica have asked for. 


How is the queen removed as head of state?

Becoming a republic would enable each country to install their own popularly elected head of state, as Barbados did last year. 

For several countries, such as Jamaica and Grenada, removing Elizabeth as head of state would first require a constitutional change—a lengthy process that could delay officially becoming a republic for two to three years.

For example, the governments of Jamaica and Grenada would need to call for a referendum, and the motion would require a two-thirds majority vote by the public for the change to pass—unlike in Barbados, where a two-thirds majority vote in the country’s Parliament was the only measure needed for the nation to swear in its first president.

Why are these countries doing this now?

Several leaders of Caribbean countries signaled intentions for becoming republics as they met with members of the British monarchy during what was more or less a public relations campaign to “brighten up their image” in the so-called global south, said Arley Gill, Grenada’s ambassador to the Caribbean Community, or Caricom, a regional grouping of Caribbean countries and territories.

During the two trips in March and April, both meant as a celebration of Elizabeth’s 70-year reign, royals were met with protests and demands for reparations—a formal acknowledgement of the history of enslavement and payment for the damage done to Africans and their ancestors.

The issue had died down in the last couple of years, said Don Rojas, the director of communications and international relations for the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, but recent revelations in the press exposing how the royal family directly benefited from slavery put it right back on the political agenda, Rojas said.

The Caribbean push to decouple from the British monarchy has also come during an “awakening of Black consciousness” across the world and in the Caribbean, in particular—largely spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, Gill said. “That, in many respects, has spilled over into issues of referendum and so on.”

And while the issues of becoming a republic and receiving reparations are separate, global demonstrations provided a source of inspiration and encouragement to the reparations movement in the Caribbean region, Rojas said. “You’ve got rumblings of pro-republicanism taking place in almost all of the Caricom countries.”


What is likely to happen next?

It depends. The decisions about becoming a republic are very much national decisions, said Hilary Brown, the program manager of culture and community development at the Caricom Secretariat. 

In Jamaica, a committee has been created to oversee the process of making a constitutional change. “The constitution sets out its own process for amendment, and we cannot deviate from it,” Marlene Malahoo Forte, Jamaica’s minister of legal and constitutional affairs, told journalists in April. But she said Jamaica is committed to the removal process.

In Belize, the latest budget sets aside funds for a constitutional commission to look into the process to remove the queen. Politicians in Grenada have also called for a referendum to vote on becoming a republic.

“There is a way of Caricom members following each other,” said Grenadian journalist Linda Straker. “I will not be surprised at all if by 2024 we become a republic similar to Barbados.”

Still, some countries have not expressed a desire to remove Elizabeth. St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a stop on the royal tour in April, was not among the six Caribbean nations that have in the past two months signaled an intention to become a republic. The government called for a referendum vote in 2009 to remove the queen, which failed to pass, and the prime minister has said he would not call for a second referendum. 

And in Antigua and Barbuda, Browne, the prime minister, said that while his country intends to become a republic, it is “not currently on the cards,” BBC reported.

But for the most part, countries have expressed unity in their intention to remove the queen. “There’s a great momentum now for republicanism in the Caribbean. So it is for our leaders now to hit the iron while it is hot,” Gill said.

Mary Yang is an intern at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @MaryRanYang

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