After Queen’s Death: What Commonwealth Will King Charles III Rule Over?

- Advertisement -

Guardian- The Queen was head of state for as many as 32 countries in her 70-year reign; by the time of her death, just 14 other than the UK remained.

And while Barbados’ decision to become a republic last year was the first such exit in almost 30 years, the accession of Charles III provides a natural moment for many of his subjects across the Commonwealth to ask if the time is right to install a less remote head of state.

Britain’s King Charles III (L) meets with Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland in Buckingham PalacLondon on September 11, 2022. (Victoria Jones/Pool/AFP)

On Saturday, Patrick Wintour and Oliver Holmes wrote that in the Caribbean, “a legacy of empire and slavery that was entwined with British royalty for centuries has raised tough questions about the place of a foreign king”.

Earlier this year, controversial Caribbean tours by the Earl and Countess of Wessex and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – now the Prince and Princess of Wales – led to renewed calls for reparations to reflect the lasting legacy of slavery in the region. All of this has crystallised in the weekend’s moves towards a referendum in Antigua and Barbuda.

The Caribbean is the focus of the most energised republican movements. Grace Carrington, a research fellow at the UCL Institute of the Americas, said that “whereas older generations in the Caribbean express some fondness for the Queen, that isn’t the case with Charles, and so the dynamics are very different now”.

“People who I speak to who are pro-monarchy, it’s always in the context of her as an individual, as a motherly or grandmotherly figure,” said Carrington, who is currently in Saint Vincent. “Whereas on WhatsApp chats since her death, there was a real frustration here that the conversation has not been an opportunity to talk about the legacy of colonialism.”

Here’s a guide to how that debate is playing out across the Commonwealth.

Change under way

Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Gaston Browne said on Saturday that his plan for a referendum in Antigua and Barbuda was “not an act of hostility … but it is the final step to complete that circle of independence, to ensure that we are truly a sovereign nation”. It’s been in the post for a while: when the Wessexes visited in April, Browne set out his hope to become a republic and asked the couple to use their influence to achieve “reparatory justice”. (Prince Edward did not respond to the point, saying he had not been “keeping notes”.)

But while Browne’s pledge is a milestone, it is by no means a done deal: any change would require a two-thirds majority in a referendum, and a 2018 vote to replace the privy council with the Caribbean court of justice as the final court of appeal fell well short of that threshold, not even reaching a simple majority.

The removal of the monarchy appears more straightforward in Jamaica, where a simple majority would be enough – a threshold which polls have indicated would probably be met. A referendum could be framed as a choice between becoming a republic and endorsing Charles as king to more strongly motivate “yes” voters. While the prime minister, Andrew Holness, in his statement of condolence on Thursday made no reference to any plans, he said last year: “There is no question that Jamaica has to become a republic.” And in March he told William and Kate that “we are moving on” and that Jamaica intended to be “an independent, developed, prosperous country”.

In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, where protesters called for slave trade reparations during the Wesssexes’ visit, the prime minister, Ralph Gonsalves, proposed a referendum in July but said it could only go ahead with bipartisan support.

“People are looking to Saint Vincent as one of the places that could do it,” said Carrington. “Interestingly, it is the countries on these royal tours that have seen conversations – whereas previously there might have been apathy, the fact of discussions about whether they were invited, who’s paying for it, and how anachronistic it can look, has made it relevant.” But, again, the requirement for a two-thirds majority in any referendum is a significant barrier.

Change possible

The Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia

Other Caribbean countries have active republican movements and the support of senior politicians but have not seen movement recently. Again, the threshold for change is a crucial question: the Bahamas, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Saint Lucia all require a simple majority, while Grenada requires a two-thirds vote. Belize is the only country in the Caribbean where Charles could be removed by a parliamentary vote alone, which makes it “one of the most interesting ones to watch”, Carrington said.

Local political dynamics are also a factor. In the Bahamas, the prime minister, Phillip “Brave” Davis, has cited next year’s 50th anniversary of independence as a natural moment to consider replacing the monarchy. Meanwhile in Grenada, Arley Gill, chairman of the National Reparations Committee, told i in June that ordinary people “have no reservations” about becoming a republic. But he added: “Sometimes with a referendum like this … if the opposition sees an opportunity to throw a cheap blow then you may very well find the government will be hesitant to go forward.”

Carrington agreed. “The need for a referendum is a real impediment. Almost always in the region, they get centred around the political personalities rather than the issue – and the leader who called the referendum loses the next election. So it’s not always a smart political decision.”

No change for now

Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu

Countries where the legacy of the slave trade is less salient in contemporary politics have shown significantly less appetite for change. Leaders in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu have all reiterated their support for the monarchy in recent days. Republicanism is popular in Australia, Canada and New Zealand in principle, but well down the political agenda – at least for now.

In Australia, the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, a staunch republican, created the role of assistant minister for the republic earlier this year – but now says that “now is not the time” to consider a referendum. (Cait Kelly’s piece here explores divided feelings among young Australians.)

In New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern has said she expects the country to become a republic in her lifetime but that it is not “something New Zealanders feel particularly strongly about”. And she said that she expected the country’s relationship to the royal family to “deepen” during Charles’s reign.

In Canada, majorities tend to favour an appointed head of state. But the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, suggested last year that the question is not a priority, and there are significant constitutional impediments: any change would require a unanimous decision by every provincial legislature as well as the national parliamentary bodies.

Trudeau’s remarks after the news of the Queen’s death did not suggest that would change soon. “In a complicated world, her steady grace and resolve brought comfort and strength to us all,” he said. “Canada is in mourning.”

- Advertisement -