Barbados Set to Cut ‘Umbilical Cord’ With U.K.
(Bloomberg) -- For the first time in three decades, Queen Elizabeth II is losing one of her many realms.
On Nov. 30, Barbados, in the eastern Caribbean, will be removing the British monarch as its head of state and installing Governor General Sandra Mason as president.
“This is monumental from our point of view,” Suleiman Bulbulia, a member of the committee tasked with analyzing the change, said in a phone interview. “This is the next step in our journey -- cutting the umbilical cord that connects us to the U.K.”
The move is largely symbolic, as Barbados has been a sovereign nation since 1966. But the transition underscores the growing independent streak in the Caribbean -- home to nine of the 16 commonwealth realms, sovereign countries that have Queen Elizabeth as their head of state.
“The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind,” Governor General Mason said last year, when the transition was announced. “Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state.”
Leaving the commonwealth won’t affect economic conditions on the island of 287,000 people, but it will be an important psychological boost, Bulbulia said. While the names of some government agencies -- The Royal Barbados Police Force, for example -- will need to be changed, the costs of the transition will be minimal, he added.
Barbados, along with other tourism-dependent economies in the region, suffered a deep slump during the pandemic, and is grappling with one of the world’s heaviest debt burdens. The economy is expected to grow 3.3% this year, after collapsing 18% in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund.
The last nation to leave the commonwealth realm was Mauritius in 1992. But Jamaica, the Bahamas, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines have all considered ditching the monarchy.
On Sunday, London’s Telegraph reported that the British Virgin Islands, a British overseas territory, may hold a referendum on removing the Queen and becoming a republic. A public relations firm representing the jurisdiction, however, said in an email that a referendum has not been proposed, and that any move toward greater independence would not necessarily mean becoming a republic or removing the Queen.
Guy Hewitt, a former High Commissioner of Barbados in London, said Prime Minister Mia Mottley lost an opportunity to consolidate the island’s democracy by not calling for a referendum on the issue.
He’s also among those who had been in favor of postponing the move until the Queen had passed on the crown to her heirs.
“The Queen is held in such high regard and has been an icon of the 20th Century,” Hewitt said. “I wouldn’t want this to be perceived as a slight against her.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.