How long does the Monarchy have left?
In September Barbados announced that it will finally sever its ties to the United Kingdom by ditching the Queen as its head of state.
The island nation, known colloquially as Little England, will be the first country to distance itself from the Monarchy since Mauritius became a republic way back in 1992.
With the legacy of imperialism under heightened scrutiny in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is a point of curiosity that so many ex-colonial territories still retain their links to Empire via the Royal Family.
What is it that prevents these countries from letting go? How popular is the Monarchy? Is Barbados going to precipitate the Royal Family’s global reach to collapse like a house of cards? This report seeks to explain.
Seven of the 16 ‘realms’ ruled by the British Monarchy are situated within the Caribbean.
For whatever reason, Caribbean nations have been much slower in ditching the Monarchy post-independence than countries in Africa and Asia.
Barbados, therefore, could serve as a red pill for its neighbours.
The island’s Governor-General Dame Sandra Mason explained the decision to become a republic, saying:
The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind. Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state. This is the ultimate statement of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving.
Hence, Barbados will take the next logical step toward full sovereignty and become a republic by the time we celebrate our 55th anniversary of independence.
That ‘logical step’ has only been taken once before in the Carribean, and that was way back in 1976 when Trinidad and Tobago became a republic after 13 years of independence.
St Vincent and the Grenadines held a referendum on the Monarchy in 2009, with 66% of the vote needed to force a change to the constitution. In the end, just 44% of Vincentians voted in favour of ditching the Queen.
Jamaica, meanwhile, has been flirting with republicanism for a while now. It is perhaps a surprise that such a fiercely independent and culturally significant nation hasn’t yet fully detached itself from its colonial past.
A string of Jamaican prime ministers have all pledged to hold a vote on the issue, but none have yet delivered.
PJ Patterson set a deadline for a vote in 2007, and his successor Portia Simpson-Miller did the same in 2012 to mark the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence.
Current Prime Minister Andrew Holness has also pledged that his government will amend the Constitution to make Jamaica a republic. As of yet, there has however been no clear plan put forward as to how Jamaica will follow Barbados’s lead.
The Jamaican approach is a good example for how sticky the shift away from the Monarchy can be. Any change to the Jamaican Constitution requires the support of two-thirds of both houses of the Parliament of Jamaica to pass.
Gaining a majority can often be hindered by suspicion and scepticism from those who are concerned that republicanism could strengthen the position of rival parties, or lead to nepotism, dictatorialism, or corruption.
For many of the countries which retain the Windsors, it is a case of better the devil you know.
Australian republicans thought that the declassification of the Palace Letters would be the final nail in the coffin for the Monarchy in Australia.
The Letters were, until this year, held by the National Archives in London, who refused access to the public until the High Court of Australia ruled that the documents had to be made accessible to the Australia public.
The documents relate to the 1975 Constitutional Crisis, wherein Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was dismissed by the Queen’s representative, Governor-General Sir John Kerr.
The move was seen as a gross misuse of the monarchy’s power in Australia, and Kerr eventually had to cut his time as Governor-General short and flee to London.
Buckingham Palace always maintained that Kerr acted on his own accord, and the Queen had little to no knowledge of what was going on.
The Letters were believed to contain evidence that the Queen had, in fact, been in direct contact with her Governor-General in the lead up to Whitlam’s dismissal. A fact that Australian republicans felt could only convince the Australian public of the outdated and invasive nature of the Monarchy Down Under.
As it turned out, the papers only confirmed Buckingham Palace’s claims. The Queen’s private secretary Martin Charteris had spoken to Kerr, but only in order to distance the Queen from his plans. Elizabeth herself had no contact with Kerr, and the Letters failed to provide republicans with the smoking gun they were looking for.
This did not stop anti-Monarchists, including former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, seizing the opportunity to call for an Australian head of state.
Turnbull himself had led the Australian Republic Movement in the build-up to the 1999 Republic Referendum. The outcome of which many felt would see Australia enter the new millennium as a modern, independent republic.
As is typical of Australian politics however, things got messy. Republicans could not agree upon the selection process for a new head of state, and began warring with one another.
Some advocated direct election, others for parliamentary election, and others for appointment by a special council following nomination by the PM.
The model proposed in the Referendum would have seen the new head of state selected by Parliament, not the public.
This caused the movement to become associated with political elitism, and endorsement by former PMs Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser only fueled the public’s mistrust.
In the end, the 1999 Republic Referendum saw 55% of Australians vote no to ditching the Monarchy.
Australian High Court Justice Michael Kirby (a monarchist) attributed the referendum’s failure to several factors, including: haste; lack of bi-partisanship; a “denigration” of monarchists as unpatriotic; concerns about the republican model; a pro-republican bias in the media; and a feeling that the republic was chiefly in the interests of city elites (Melbourne and Sydney voted yes to the republic by 71 and 68% respectively).
The Monarchy clings on in Australia not due to widespread popularity, but because a) the Republican Movement cant get its act together, and b) the public are unsure of the alternative.
A 2019 poll (carried about by Curia on behalf of New Zealand Republic) showed that 55% of New Zealanders want the country’s next head of state to be a New Zealander.
Support was strongest among Maori respondents, at 80%, and among those ages 18-30, at 76%.
Even PM Jacinda Ardern, now internationally renowned for her handling of the coronavirus, has expressed her support for cutting ties with the royal family.
A country primed to follow in Barbados’s footsteps, then? Well, that looks unlikely for now.
The matter just isn’t the top of most Kiwi’s priorities. Ardern’s Labour Party, which is up for re-election this year, makes no mention of the Monarchy or a referendum on the topic within its manifesto.
Now, this may change once the widely revered Elizabeth II passes and the far-less popular Charles takes over, but the Treaty of Waitangi may still prove to be a stumbling block for any push for an Aotearoan Republic.
The Treaty of Waitangi is as close as it gets to a political Ten Commandments. The text forms the bedrock of New Zealand society in a way that no other document in world politics can really compare to, bar maybe the US Constitution.
The Treaty was signed in 1840 by Maori chiefs and representatives of the British Crown, and outlined the relationship between the two groups as the modern state of New Zealand was formed.
While inequalities persisted, the Treaty ostensibly guaranteed Maori rights to land, and protection as citizens of the British Crown.
Some have expressed concern that the terms of the Treaty will become invalid if New Zealand ditches the British Crown.
While academics have countered this, any tampering or hint at tampering with the treaty is enough to put a significant proportion of Kiwis off of constitutional change.
In August it emerged that the Queen’s representative in Canada, Governor General Julie Payette, was using a Government Challenger aircraft to fly between Mirabel airport and her mountain cottage at an expense of around $5,000 an hour. A drive would’ve taken her just 90 minutes.
Such a brazen misuse of public funds would’ve been bad PR for the monarchy in Canada in normal times, and came across even worse in the middle of a global pandemic and economic downturn.
Payette’s spokesperson justified the expenditure by clarifying that the plane had never been summoned for personal use, and was only used for ceremonial duties such as giving royal assent to legislation.
This led many Canadians to ask: why on Earth are we spending so much money on something as trivial as ‘royal assent’?
Canadians are, broadly, not fond of the monarchy. A recent Angus Reed poll showed that just 39% of Canadians wanted the country to remain a constitutional monarchy.
British Columbia is the only Canadian province with a pro-Monarchy majority. Unsurprisingly, support for the Monarchy sits at just 20% in French-speaking Quebec.
Shaking the Royals loose is a particularly difficult endeavour for Canadian republicans, however. Significant changes to the Canadian Constitution require unanimous support from all provincial legislatures as well as the federal parliament.
It takes just one pro-monarchy province therefore to keep Canada tied to the Windsors, and by extension tied to chartered-jet loving Governor Generals.
Conclusion – What about Britain?
So we’ve shown that for the distant ‘realms’ beyond UK shores still ruled by the Monarchy, the retention of ties to the Crown is often a result of reluctance to constitutional change or concern about the alternative rather than any particular allegiance to Her Royal Highness.
The republican debate will continue within these countries over the coming years and decades, and many predict that once Elizabeth passes and a less revered successor takes over, be that Charles of William, many countries will see this as a good time to cut ties.
For now however, Barbados is way ahead of the crowd.
But what about Britain? Surely a country so focused on ‘taking back control’ should be wanting to seize control from an unelected head of state?
A 2018 YouGov poll showed that 69% of Britons describe themselves as monarchists, as opposed to 21% who outright say they want to be rid of the Royals.
It has been a turbulent few years for the Royals. Harry and Meghan have distanced themselves from the family, and the Queen’s own son has been accused of serious sexual assault crimes associated with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.
However, unlike in the distant realms, the Monarchy is ingrained within British (well, English) culture. The Royals are a major part of the UK’s image overseas, and, whether you agree with it or not, the monarchy represents power to countries such as Saudi Arabia and China.
For better or worse, post-imperial Britain has retained a lot of its international relevance thanks to Queen Elizabeth II. For the UK therefore the monarchy looks like its here to stay.