King Charles III’s May 6 coronation will be a moment of celebration for the British royal family. But for many of the 14 Commonwealth realm countries still tied to the British monarchy, it could be a time where calls to drop the monarchy resurface, given the death of the popular Queen Elizabeth II.
The Queen “kept a lot of these attachments to the Commonwealth and the monarchy alive for so many generations after independence,” says Matthew Smith, director of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery at University College London. “Now that… we have King Charles III, it’s a very different relationship.”
Nowhere is that more true than in the Caribbean, where Britain’s history of colonization and slavery is leading to transitions out of the modern Commonwealth, which some believe is a form of neo-colonialism. In 2021, Barbados became the first country to transition to a republic since Mauritius in 1992. Officials in at least six other Caribbean countries have signaled they intend to remove the monarch as their sovereign. Here’s which countries could be next.
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The pressures of ‘going it alone’
More than a dozen countries are part of the commonwealth realm, including Canada, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Jamaica, and New Zealand, though the monarchy’s role in these nations is mostly symbolic. Over 40 additional countries are part of the Commonwealth of Nations, many of which do not officially recognize the royal family as sovereign.
The British commonwealth formed after World War II, as former territories of the British Empire sought to become independent. The connection allowed countries to be self-governed, while still maintaining access to resources such as scholarships and preferential trade with Britain.
When the empire dissolved, it posed new challenges for the colonized countries that had become dependent on Britain for a variety of resources. The Commonwealth affiliation offered support for countries still navigating their new independence, along with cooperation on international goals. “Being part of the Commonwealth as conceived could alleviate pressures of going it alone as an independent nation,” Smith says.
This was a draw for many of the Caribbean nations who were early in their development when the Commonwealth formed, Matthew says, and virtually unknown on the global stage. “As they’ve become a lot more assertive and have a presence that is not just an addendum to the Empire, there is a view that that should be sufficient to carry them through.”
Further still, some believe that the Commonwealth is essentially a form of neocolonialism, a modern continuation of “civilizing missions” in which Western forces aimed to bend Indigenous cultures into their own images.
Royal insignia used across the Commonwealth employed racist iconography, and education opportunities in Britain were promoted as better than those available locally. “It’s continued a certain kind of genocidal approach to Indigenous knowledge,” explains Jahlani Niaah, a lecturer in the Institute of Caribbean Studies at The University of the West Indies.
“It is one of the lingering touchstones of the colonial past that continues the farce of a ‘civilizing mission’ as a necessarily good, post-colonial institution for political cooperation and cultural good,” says Niaah.
Many of the benefits first promised by the Commonwealth have not materialized, Niaah says. “We’re relying on those arrangements to bring us serious socio-political transformation, but they have just made us more financially imbalanced.”
Members of Australia and New Zealands’ governments have both hinted at transitioning into republics in the near future. Following Queen Elizabeth II’s death, Adam Bandt, a member of Australia’s Green Party, shared his condolences on Twitter, along with a call for Australia to “move forward” away from the monarchy.
“We need [a] Treaty with First Nations people, and we need to become a Republic,” he said. Former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has previously said she expected a transition to happen “in [her] lifetime.”
The legacy of slavery in the Caribbean
The calls for change are loudest in the Caribbean, where the monarchy’s legacy is deeply entangled with slavery. Anti-monarchist sentiment has grown alongside racial justice movements, Smith says.
“During the period of imperialism, colonialism, and slavery, the African heritage elements to the Caribbean were significantly undermined by the dominant imperial structure,” Smith says. “Now we’re at a moment in time where consequences and motivations of that—profit and human exploitation—are much more widely known and understood. And that brings that entire relationship into sharper focus and greater questioning.”
Rising calls for change confirm this. Last spring, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge faced widespread protests during a visit to the Caribbean spring that was widely condemned.
The couple’s first major engagement in Belize was canceled before they arrived, after locals staged a protest against their visit. A government committee in the Bahamas called for the royals to issue “a full and formal apology for their crimes against humanity.” Photos from the trip—which showed the couple shaking hands with Jamaican children through wire fences and looking into a crowd from a Land Rover during a military parade—were viewed by many as a callback to colonialism.
During a meeting with the Duke and Duchess, Jamaica’s Prime Minister informed them that the country would be “moving on” from the monarchy. “The visit stimulated a conversation about relevance,” Niaah says. “It provided the perfect gauge for checking the mood of the region.”
The transition process varies by nation. Both Australia and the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines held failed referendums on becoming republics in 1999 and 2009, respectively.
Jamaica looks closest to following Barbados next. The move would add significant momentum for the Caribbean, given that Jamaica was once one of Britain’s largest colonies in the region.
Niaah says it’s clear the relationship is not mutually beneficial, describing how certain trade arrangements have made it so that Jamaican sugar is more affordable in the U.K. than in Jamaica itself.
“It’s that kind of absurdity that shows how the rules seem to only favor one side.”
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