By Oliver Gibson
As the year has progressed, and the steady stream of Covid-19 news carries on, it may seem like there’s not much else that’s been happening, In the last few weeks alone, however, a number of important developments in world affairs concerning the UK have occurred.
Brexit is back at the front page of the news following the Government’s latest policy moves. And with the Internal Market Bill having passed through its Second Reading in the Commons, it seems as though this policy, a threat to the EU negotiators or not, could be set in stone in the weeks to come.
It could come as a surprise, however, that another development concerning the UK and the Commonwealth has nothing to do with Brexit or the Covid-19 pandemic at all. The Government of Barbados has announced its intention to become a Republic and to remove Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State, by its 55th anniversary of independence next year.
Will it Happen?
It is not the first time that a government of Barbados has declared its intentions to become a republic. In fact, multiple governments have announced similar plans over the course of Barbados’ 55 years of independence.
The most recent move in this field was in 2015 when then Prime Minister Freundel Stuart announced that Barbados would become a republic in ‘the very near future’. He was defeated in the 2018 elections, with his party losing all of its seats, however, suggesting a possible lack of support on the matter.
Public support for republicanism in Barbados seems mixed. The fact that the Barbadian Government is pursuing the establishment of a republic suggests that support does exist, though it is still unclear whether the majority of people in Barbados would support such a decision.
In fact, the opposite may be true. A poll of readers of Barbados Today, an online paper, in 2015 found that 64% would choose to keep Queen Elizabeth II as their Head of State. While only 866 people were polled on the matter, it serves as an important barometer of public opinion on the matter, especially given the lack of a referendum up to this point.
Buckingham Palace responded to the Barbadian Government’s intention by stating that such a decision would be a matter for the people of Barbados to decide, suggesting the Queen’s support for a referendum on the matter.
The Barbadian Government currently hold 29 of the 30 seats in the House of Assembly of Barbados. Given its strong position, it is possible that it could opt to make the necessary constitutional changes without public consultation. However, given the nature of such a change, it would be unusual and perhaps illegitimate for this action to be taken without the use of a referendum – despite its strong victory in the last election.
How would this affect relations between the UK and Barbados?
If Barbados was to become a republic, it would not mean that its ties with the UK would be severed completely. Unless it chose to leave, Barbados would remain a part of the Commonwealth of Nations, a diplomatic community comprised of Britain and its former colonies along with Mozambique, Cameroon and Rwanda.
It would be unlikely for Barbados to withdraw from the Commonwealth whether it became a republic or retained the monarchy. 54 sovereign states make up the Commonwealth, and it does not appear to have been shaken by Brexit or by the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, numerous countries that previously had the British monarch of the day as their head of state are still part of the Commonwealth today. Countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh serve as examples of this.
Some other Commonwealth countries, such as Brunei and Lesotho, chose to establish their own monarchies. While many Twitter users called for the famous pop singer Rihanna to become the Queen of Barbados, it seems more likely that Barbados would become a republic if it chose to abolish the monarchy as it currently exists.