“God Save the King” – four words unlikely to be on the lips of many Jamaicans at the weekend during the coronation of the King. “Happy and glorious” – also a long stretch.
In a world exclusive, a senior Jamaican government minister has told Sky News that the coronation has accelerated the country’s plans to become a republic – as soon as next year.
Sky News can reveal that an “urgent” referendum could be held “as early as 2024”, which means Jamaica could become independent of the British monarchy and have its own president by next year, according to Marlene Malahoo Forte, Jamaica’s minister for legal and constitutional affairs.
“While the United Kingdom is celebrating the coronation of the King, that is for the United Kingdom,” she said.
“Jamaica is looking to write a new constitution… which will sever ties with the monarch as our head of state.”
She added: “Time has come. Jamaica in Jamaican hands. We have to get it done, especially with the transition in the monarchy. My government is saying we have to do it now.
“Time to say goodbye!”
Ms Malahoo Forte has described her timeline as “ambitious”, as it requires public consultations and a bill being brought to parliament – which she hopes to introduce this month, after the coronation.
Passing the bill could take up to nine months, which would subsequently need to be passed by the people in a referendum – effectively “a general election”.
The former attorney general said: “A lot of Jamaicans had warm affection and identified with Queen Elizabeth II. When Jamaica became independent, Queen Elizabeth was already on the throne.
“But they do not identify with King Charles. He is as foreign as it gets to us. Plain and simple.”
Ms Malahoo Forte told Sky News that Jamaica’s desire for self-determination has, in part, been influenced by the royal family’s “own set of issues internally”.
“Issues,” she added, “which have been playing out in the news. Jamaicans are saying this is a time for Jamaica to sort itself out – and doing so means we want another form of government.”
An apology – or lack of – for the slave trade
Jamaica has a “complex” relationship with the United Kingdom, Ms Malahoo Forte said.
“[Republicanism] is about us saying goodbye to a form of government that is linked to a painful past of colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade.”
According to the National Library of Jamaica, during the transatlantic slave trade, around 600,000 captive Africans were forcibly sent to Jamaica – making Britain one of the largest slave traders in the Atlantic in the 18th century.
This historic event is still a major issue in the present.
Last year, during the Prince and Princess of Wales’s controversial tour to the Caribbean, Prince William acknowledged the issue but fell short of an apology.
In his speech, he lamented that “slavery was abhorrent” and that “it should never have happened”.
However, for the descendants of those once enslaved, his words were simply not good enough.
“A step in the right direction, but not far enough at all,” Ms Malahoo Forte told Sky News.
“If you acknowledge that it is wrong… I wonder, why not a full apology? It is because you may have to give back the wealth of the monarchy, taken from the people? Taken from the places that were colonised? Taken from the places where the people were enslaved?”
The question of reparations.
The minister’s nod to reparations did not stop there. “If there is any sincerity in the acknowledgment, it has to go further,” Ms Malahoo Forte told Sky News. “Nothing short of a full apology, plus concrete steps to repair the wrong, will suffice.”
“[Reparations] are what the people of Jamaica want, and it is something that the government will do.”
She added: “I think it is something that the monarchy should think long and hard about as they themselves are grappling with their relevance today. I’ve looked at the polls!”
A Buckingham Palace spokesperson said the King takes the issue of slavery “profoundly seriously”, and that the matter of republicanism, “is purely a matter for each member country to decide”.
The Windrush scandal hitting home
However, it’s not just the royals swaying public opinion in Jamaica.
Political decisions made four-and-a-half-thousand miles away in Britain are also responsible for Jamaica’s acceleration towards a republic, Ms Malahoo Forte told Sky News.
“Jamaicans living in the United Kingdom have experienced the worst of policies that can be regarded as racist.
“Windrush was personal for our people. Personal. Many [affected] are our families, our friends, our people.
“Unfortunately, the UK government got it so wrong. For people who went there to build up the wealth [of Britain]. The policies are racist and unjust – by virtue of nationality, ethnic background, and the colour of your skin.
“It’s just not right.”
A government spokesperson told Sky News that the UK is “committed” to its relationship with Jamaica “regardless of its constitutional status”, and that it remains “determined to righting the wrongs of Windrush… to make sure such an injustice is never repeated”.
‘The unfinished business of decolonisation’
Professor Rosalea Hamilton, co-chair of the Advocates Network pushing for constitutional reform, told Sky News that the drive for republicanism is “the unfinished business of decolonisation and emancipation”.
She said: “Nobody has been able to put to me – or to anybody – a convincing, tangible benefit for the King as the head of state.
“Many young people are especially asking what’s the relevance? How does a King affect the price of bread?”
But are Jamaicans ready to sever ties?
“There are Jamaicans who will sit very glued to their television and will enjoy the pomp and ceremony. The older generation… saw Britain as a motherland,” Prof Hamilton said.
In Downtown Kingston, Sky News came across a group of elderly Jamaican men playing a heated game of Dominoes.
Banton was among them – he disagrees with the 2024 timeline, and strongly believes that the status quo – with the King as the island’s monarch and head of state – should remain.
He said: “The Crown is protection for Jamaica.
“I want to tell you something. Stick to the evil that you know. I’m not saying they’re good. They are evil. But I will stick to the evil that I know.”
His friend John added: “It’s not a good idea. We don’t think we are ready for it. We don’t have the resource. We don’t!
“We are like a child. You cannot leave a child like that!”
A Jamaican republic is far from a done deal – and the Jamaican government has its work cut out if they are to stick to the timeline it shared with Sky News.
However, if the government’s plan succeeds, 2024 could be a major year with huge ramifications – not just for Jamaicans, but the monarchy, and the Commonwealth as a whole.