WILL Rishi Sunak be the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (UK) to engage CARICOM on reparations? That’s the multi-million-dollar question on minds across England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, after a UK MP of British and Caribbean parentage on March 8 called on Prime Minister Sunak to engage 14 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments on ‘Reparations for Slavery and Native Genocide’ in the former British West Indies, which today are still part of the British Commonwealth.
Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South, called publicly this week for Sunak to start negotiations with Caribbean leaders on paying reparations for Britain’s role in, and benefits from, Slavery.
His call followed a historic move by a British family that apologised and established a Reparations fund in Grenada on February 27, to atone for its proverbial Original Sin.
Speaking at the debate on ‘The UK Government’s role in promoting financial security and reducing inequality in the Caribbean’, Lewis said Reparations could not be dismissed as “an obsession among a small group of so-called woke extremists” – as being claimed by conservative critics and families unwilling to apologise or atone for their slave-owning ancestors.
A week earlier, Lewis had raised (in Parliament), the issue of UK Parliamentarians whose families benefitted from Trans-Atlantic Slavery needing to also atone for their fore-parents and make amends to the descendants of the millions of Africans enslaved by British companies, churches, universities and businesses.
He had rhetorically asked the Speaker why any fellow MPs hadn’t followed the example of the Trevelyan family, which recently launched a £100,000 fund in Grenada to account for their family’s role in the slave trade, including owning more than 1,000 slaves and six sugar plantations on the island.
In 1835, the Trevelyans were allocated £26,898 – worth millions of Euros and US dollars today – in compensation from the British government for the abolition of slavery a year earlier.
But the enslaved men, women and children received nothing after 1834 and were forced to work a further eight years as unpaid “apprentices”.
After welcoming the Trevelyans’ actions in Parliament, Lewis asked (in his Twitter account): “If this family can do it, then why can’t our government?”
He told fellow MPs, “I find it disturbing that the British government is yet to enter into serious discussions with the island of Grenada and the Caribbean community in regards to reparations.”
Lewis noted that in 1837 the British government saw fit to give 40% of the Treasury’s annual income – 5% of GDP — to compensate slave owners, “but there was no compensation for the enslaved, or to help correct the deep and structural legacy of slavery.”
Lewis said of the Trevelyans: “They did what no British government has ever done before: They apologised for their ancestors’ part in the exploitation of the 1,000 slaves they owned on six plantations.”
He continued, “They acknowledge the financial and cultural advantage this has generated for them and (they) urge the British government, as I do today, to enter into meaningful negotiations with the governments of the Caribbean in order to make appropriate reparations.”
Lewis also said the Trevelyan family had “opened the door of this debate just a little wider”.
The MP behind the motion likened the relationship between the UK and the Commonwealth to “an abusive one” in which “one partner has endured 400 years of the most hideous abuse, and one who now seeks not charity, but restitution”.
He also warned that the UK “will not be able to move on as a cohesive whole until these issues are resolved.”
Among what The Guardian described as a “handful of MPs at the debate” was Labour’s Nadia Whittome, who supported Lewis’ call for the Sunak administration to engage with CARICOM on Reparations.
CARICOM leaders sent a joint letter to the UK and other European Union (EU) member-states since 2013, requesting a discussion of a 10-Point Plan for Reparatory Justice.
However, approaching a decade later, Brussels has not shown any sign of entertaining any such discussion.
Whittome said, “The case for former colonial powers to pay reparations to the descendants of enslaved peoples is particularly strong,” since the UK government compensated families up to as recent as eight years ago, in 2015.
“The reason why reparations is the right and fair thing to do,” she added, ‘is because of the legacy of slavery and because wealthier countries like ours extracted and underdeveloped those societies… and because of our role in the climate crisis – and the fact that this threatens the very future of the Caribbean.”
Wednesday’s discussion also followed fresh calls in the UK – also last week — for British MP Richard Drax to hand over his family’s 250-hectare estate in Barbados to islanders, to help compensate for the horrors of slave trade.
The Drax family’s ancestors pioneered the slave and plantation system in Barbados and the West Indies in the 17th century, as well as in the US.
The family’s historical wealth was inherited from Sir James Drax, one of the first Englishmen to colonize Barbados, who also owned (at least) two slave ships (named ‘Samuel’ and ‘Hope’) — and the family also owned a plantation in Jamaica, which it sold in the 19th century.
The family received almost £5,000 — another very large sum in 1836 — for freeing 189 enslaved people when slavery was abolished across the British Empire in 1833.
The Guardian claims that as of December 2020, Richard Drax was worth around £150 million and owns several properties across Dorset and Yorkshire.
But whether the Drax family will follow the Trevelyans’ footsteps, or if PM Sunak will take MP Lewis’ call seriously, are still both sixty-million-dollar-questions awaiting answers on all three sides of the lucrative Great Triangle and both ends of the perilous Middle Passage for kidnapped Africans, sold into Slavery in the Caribbean and The Americas and the profits of the Chattel Slave Trade shipped to Europe.