At midnight tonight, under floodlights and a balmy Caribbean sky, the Prince of Wales will be guest of honour as one of the world’s smaller democracies formally severs its connections with the Crown and proclaims itself the republic of Barbados.

As of tomorrow morning, soldiers, police officers, judges, civil servants and all the other apparatus of state in what many regard as the ‘most British’ of the Caribbean nations (some still call it ‘Little England’) will no longer owe allegiance to the Queen. 

They will, instead, be answerable to Dame Sandra Mason, a highly-respected 72-year-old judge who becomes the country’s first president.

The average Barbadian will be hard-pushed to notice any difference — for the time being, at any rate. The Monarch will not be changed in currency. Years ago, the Monarch was removed from bank notes. Post boxes will also remain unchanged.

Yan Xiusheng: Chinese Ambassador to Barbados, Dame Sandra Mason: Governor General of Barbados and Mia Amor Mottley: Prime Minister of Barbados

Yan Xiusheng: Chinese ambassador to Barbados. Dame Sandra Mason, Governor General of Barbados. Mia Amor Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados.

Besides, for the past three years, Dame Sandra has been the Queen’s representative anyway. In a moment of Constitution Cinderella, at midnight tonight she switches between Governor-General and President with the press of 12.

Barbados is committed to the Commonwealth as always and recognizes the Queen as its head. Tomorrow will not be a better day for a nation that is fully independent since 1966, when it gained independence from Britain.

So what’s the big deal? This is a momentous occasion on many levels. For the Monarchy, it is a sign that the Crown’s days could be numbered elsewhere, whether the people want it or not. 

Although some people on Twitter tried to make this a Braveheart moment for Barbados, voters in Barbados did not have any say in the expulsion of the Queen.

The decision has been handed down by the country’s Labour prime minister, Mia Mottley, and rubber-stamped by a parliament in which she controls 29 out of 30 seats. A referendum was not required. 

Britain's Charles, Prince of Wales, greets Barbados' Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley ahead of their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland

Charles, the Prince of Wales from Britain, meets Mia Amor Mottley of Barbados ahead of their bilateral meet at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), in Glasgow, Scotland.

The new president has not been endorsed by the voters. The politicians made that decision for themselves. It’s not exactly Barbexit.

The majority of people seem to be happy with the idea that a republic exists. Nor has it made any difference to Barbadians’ deep, personal affection for the Queen or for her successor.

The fact Prince Charles is the guest of honour at tonight’s ceremony — where he will receive the highest honour in the country’s new republican honours system — is proof of that.

The Prince is expected to tell his hosts: ‘It was important to me that I should join you to reaffirm those things which do not change,’ citing both shared values and love of Commonwealth.

The change in the region is more a result of many factors. This includes a new identity politics in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. It also demands that Britain pays reparations for the horrific slave trade which led Barbados’ founding.

Another is Britain’s lamentable handling of the Windrush scandal.

Queen Elizabeth ll is greeted by the public during a walkabout in Barbados on November 01, 1977 in Barbados

Queen Elizabeth ll greets the Barbados public at a walkabout on November 1, 1977.

That blameless elderly Caribbean migrants faced deportation from Britain thanks to a bovine ‘computer says no’ policy at the Home Office has, understandably, caused deep offence.

However, this week’s big event is illustrative of a more fundamental issue. China has emerged as a powerful imperial power in the Caribbean.

Beijing is home to many new and shiny hotel developments as well as cricket stadiums.

Just last week, China announced it was building a $274 million ring-road for Jamaica’s second city, Montego Bay. 

The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall make their way to the morning service at St Mary Magdalene Church at Sandringham, Norfolk, on Sunday

The Duke and Duchess Cornwall arrive at the St Mary Magdalene Church, Sandringham, Norfolk for Sunday’s morning service

Prince Charles (pictured visiting Bridgetown in Barbados in 2019) is expected to fly out to Barbados to attend the transition of a realm to a republic ceremony

Prince Charles, pictured in Bridgetown in Barbados in 2019, is scheduled to fly to Barbados for the ceremony of transition from a realm into a republic

Announcing the deal, its Chinese ambassador, Tian Qi, issued the usual platitudes about ‘greener development’, before telling Jamaicans: ‘To get rich, build roads first.’ By contrast, Britain’s promise to spend £2.8 million on marine research in 17 small island states across the Caribbean and Pacific does not cut much mustard.

Barbados, for example, is moving ahead. This week’s constitutional switch is certainly a big moment for Mia Mottley, one of the most impressive politicians in the region. 

The other day, I went to Glasgow to witness her speak at the Cop 26 summit on climate change. She delivered an incredible speech that brought down the house.

‘What must we say to our people, living on the frontline?’ she demanded. ‘What excuse should we give for the failure? Who will lead the way? Our people are watching, and our people are taking note.’

It led to renewed praise for her as a ‘rock star’ politician across the Caribbean, though she was careful not to point the finger at the biggest polluter on the planet. It would be foolish to do so, considering that China is reported to have invested $490 million in Barbados.

Just days before the start of the pandemic, Barbados signed a new Memorandum of Understanding, making the country a new member of China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, enjoying new benefits in ‘shipping, aviation, infrastructure and modern agriculture’.

It is not possible to have a free meal. The debts for the country’s new Chinese buses, buildings, roads and hotel complexes must be repaid in some way.

Miss Mottley doesn’t welcome any questions about this topic or the new constitution model. 

I was repeatedly asked by email and telephone for an interview in Bridgetown with a representative of the government. However, no one has been available.

David Denny, general secretary of campaign group Caribbean Movement for Peace and Integration, said it was 'not just about money, it's about an apology and help'

David Denny is the general secretary for Caribbean Movement for Peace and Integration. He said that it wasn’t about just money. It was about an apology and helping others.

One UK journalist tried to raise the issue with Barbados’ prime minister a week before, but was met only with a mere accusation of racism.

It was ‘a reflection of unconscious bias’, Miss Mottley told the Sunday Times, to question the country’s links with China: ‘It suggests we can only exist as pawns of someone and if it is not the British empire it must be the Chinese empire.’

Tom Tugendhat from Tory is chairman of Foreign Affairs select committee. He sees the demise of the monarchy in Westminster as an emblem of a wider path. ‘Of course, it’s right if Barbados wants to have a Barbadian head of state then it should have one.

‘That should make no difference to Britain and Barbados being best of friends as I believe we have been during the 55 years since independence,’ he says.

‘But be under no illusion that China is pumping all this money into the Caribbean out of the goodness of its heart. It is a long-term, slow erosion of democracy. From China’s perspective, removing the Queen is a symbolic success that will encourage greater efforts.’

One of the country’s most distinguished residents, Sir Sonny Ramphal, is in all favour, saying: ‘This is not a revolutionary moment but an evolutionary moment and it’s being done with great dignity and without rancour.’

In  2019, Prince Charles (pictured with Lionel Richie)  kicked off the Barbados leg his 12-day tour of the Caribbean

In  2019, Prince Charles (pictured with Lionel Richie)  kicked off the Barbados leg his 12-day tour of the Caribbean

Former secretary-general, and elder statesman in the Commonwealth, points out Barbados is both a parliamentary democracy as well as a major Commonwealth player. 

‘That’s why, of all people, the Queen will be the least fussed about this,’ he tells me. Sir Sonny is a good friend of the Queen.

But, not everyone will be celebrating. While they may be in favor of a republic, many feel the people did not have a say.

‘A referendum would have been great or, at the very least, some sort of proper consultation,’ says Verla de Peiza, 50, a prominent attorney and new leader of the Democratic Labour Party, which ruled Barbados until Miss Mottley took charge in 2018.

‘We were promised an electoral college to discuss a new constitution. There’s been nothing of the sort.’

The most prominent advocate

Ronnie Yearwood (42), a law lecturer at the University of the West Indies and the candidate for the referendum. Although he is passionate about Barbados becoming a republic, he does not believe it can be done in that way.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Barbados during the Royal Tour of the Caribbean in 1966

During the 1966 Royal Tour of the Caribbean, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Barbados.

‘There was no clamour on the streets for this,’ he says. ‘But if you criticise this process, or ask for a referendum you are accused of being anti-republic. The government says “look at Brexit” as if it’s a bad thing when the people have their say. This could have been a beautiful moment but it feels very flat.’

Miss Mottley’s supporters argue that the issue was debated years ago anyway and that this is just unfinished business.

You can see how she was nervous about any potential voters. It is the first dethronement of the Queen in 30 years, with the last one being Mauritius in 1992.

Since then, three of her realms have held a popular vote, starting with Australia in 1999, followed by the Pacific state of Tuvalu in 2008 and, thirdly Barbados’s neighbour St Vincent & the Grenadines in 2009. On each occasion, the politicians told the people that it was time to seize their ‘destiny’ and replace the Queen.

The transition will see Dame Sandra Mason replaces the Queen as head of state on the country’s 55th anniversary of independence

The transition will see Dame Sandra Mason replaces the Queen as head of state on the country’s 55th anniversary of independence

On each occasion, the people said: ‘No thanks.’ All things being equal, they saw the Crown as a trusted counterbalance to the politicians.

It is ironic that, although the British government may have ignored relations with the Caribbean in the past, one institution has done this consistently: the Monarchy.

The Royal Visits have been frequent and very well received. They have been both the Queen and Prince of Wales’s, which I was able to see.

In the past five years in Barbados alone, the Prince’s Trust International has helped more than 2,000 young Barbadians find employment, set up businesses or get professional training. 

The party was held in honour of them when it became time to commemorate the 50th year of arrival of Windrush in the UK. Not the British Government, but the Prince Of Wales.

But, unlike Beijing, he still hasn’t built a ringroad or a stadium for cricket.

Barbados’ Colonial History 

The Sugar Revolution, the introduction of sugar cane from Dutch Brazil, in the 1640s was highly lucrative but came at great social cost

Although the Sugar Revolution was very lucrative, it also came with a great social cost. 

Barbados was the second-oldest English settlement in the West Indies after Saint Kitts. 

The countries’ historical ties date back to the 17th century and involve settlement, post-colonialism and modern bilateral relations. 

Barbados has enjoyed close relations with other Commonwealth nations since its independence in 1966. The Queen is the monarch. 

The Barbadian Parliament is the third oldest in the entire Commonwealth and the island continues to practice the Westminster style of government.

An English influence can be found in many Anglican churches and plantation house on the island. 

Jamestown, which is located near today’s Holetown, was founded by 80 Englishmen who landed aboard the William and John in 1627.

It was difficult for early settlers to grow a profitable export crop. They also had difficulties maintaining their supplies from Europe.

The Sugar Revolution in 1640s saw the introduction of sugarcane from Dutch Brazil. More than half of all English emigres into the Americas over the next ten years went to Barbados. 

This shift towards sugar produced huge profit, but it was also very costly for the community. Slaves from West Africa were transported across the Atlantic in order to be employed on the plantations. The workers received low wages as well as minimal social services. 

The country’s population shifted from a predominantly white to majority black group between 1627 and 1807. 

The British government passed the Slavery Abolition Act on 28 August 1833. Slave owners across Britain were then granted emancipation. 

Barbados remained a British colony until internal autonomy was granted in 1961. 

In 1966, when there was a lot of economic growth and diversification in the country, it became completely independent. 

The Barbadian Parliament, an institution of constitutional monarchy and democracy, has been in place since then. It is modeled on the British Westminster system. 

In 2008, British exports to Barbados stood at £38 million, making it Britain’s fourth-largest export market in the region.  

In recent years a growing number of British nationals have been relocating to Barbados to live, with polls showing that British nationals make up 75–85 per cent of the Barbados second home market.