The Parliament of Barbados has passed by 25 votes to none a Constitutional Amendment whereby the former British colony, which remained within the Commonwealth after its declaration of independence in 1966 will become a republic and thus remove Queen Elizabeth as head of state. The decision will become effective on Dec. 1.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley explained talks regarding the transition had begun over two decades ago. “There can be no rush, therefore, about this Act. This Act has taken long in coming and if we go back, we agreed that there are aspects that are certainly worthy of consultation and that is the majority of the work that relates to the Constitution, we get that and we are committed to that.”
The new constitutional amendment would revoke the Barbados Order of 1966 as an Order in Council of Her Majesty while keeping the Barbados Constitution otherwise unchanged. It will subsequently provide that a Barbadian citizen shall be the next Head of State and then change the oath of allegiance from that to Her Majesty to now the state of Barbados and will ensure continuity in all of the other aspects about the functioning of the state of Barbados and its government offices, appointments and commissions.
“This has been a conversation that has been taking place since December 1998. The fact that I was part of the cabinet that agreed to the establishment of this Commission explains why I have so much grey hair now because it has been a long journey. It has been a long journey,” the Prime Minister added.
“Indeed one of my greatest regrets is that while there are a few who are still with us the majority of persons who served on this Commission and, in fact, the Cox Commission before have gone to the Great Beyond,” she went on.
The new change marks the end of a British head of state in Barbados since English settlers landed there in 1625 and claimed the island for King James I.
Motley made it clear that in no way did the country plan to change its name. “This bill does nothing else but seeks to make a Bajan the head of state of Barbados,” Motley stressed. “By also revoking the Order in Council we make the clear statement that we want to be in control of our affairs as a Republic,” she elaborated.
She also told legislators that together with Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley they would make a joint nomination for the election of a president of Barbados and a date will then be set for that election. It is yet unclear when the new head of state would be sworn in. The queen’s current representative to the island, Governor-General Dame Sandra Mason, will be installed on Dec. 1 as the ceremonial president of Barbados.
“Can the Parliament of Barbados revoke an order of the Parliament of the United Kingdom? Atherley has raised concerns over the legality of the move, despite his full support for it. Some law scholars have argued that the way things have been handled could be against the law. He insisted transition to republican status needed to be carried out the right way. He also pointed out the COVID-19 pandemic era was not the best of times for such a radical change and said he would have preferred it to happen July 26, 2022, the Day of National Significance in memory of 1937 Disturbances.
Barbados is a small Caribbean country with a population of barely 300,000. It was a British colony until 1966, the year in which it became independent and joined the UN, but it remained tied to the British Crown as a member of the Commonwealth.
Motley also said she believed believes this amendment makes it possible to close the loop on independence and move to another stage of our development, allowing the people of Barbados to tell the world that we have confidence in ourselves to be fully responsible for who we are and of what we do.”
Barbados is, for now, one of 16 nations that still recognize the Queen of England as head of state. But in about two months it will become the world’s newest Republic. Jamaica, another British Commonwealth nation, is also considering removing Queen Elizabeth as their head of state.
After Gov. Mason is installed as president, it will be the first time Barbados has had two Black women as national leaders, though most governing power in the nation of 300,000 will likely remain with Parliament and the prime minister, which is also the case in many other democracies where the ruling power of the president is limited.