ABritish opposition legislator, who said he has links to Grenada, is calling on the United Kingdom government to pay compensation to the Caribbean for Britain’s role in the slave trade.
Labour parliamentarian, Clive Lewis, said London must enter into “meaningful negotiations” with the Caribbean countries and pay them reparation to mitigate the impact of slavery.
He said the government should follow the example of the Trevelyans, a wealthy aristocratic family, who recently apologised for their role in the slave trade in Grenada and set up an educational fund on the island nation.
“I would contend that we cannot debate our government’s role in promoting financial security and reducing inequality in the Caribbean without discussing the elephant in the room – namely, the preceding 400 years of exploitative colonial history and the urgent need for some form of reparatory justice,” he said thanking the Trevelyan family for doing “what no British government have ever done.
“They apologised for their ancestors’ part in the exploitation of the 1,000 slaves they owned on six plantations. They acknowledged the financial and cultural advantage that had generated for them, and urged the British Government, as I do today, to enter meaningful negotiations with the governments of the Caribbean in order to make appropriate reparations.
“The Trevelyan family did not leave it there. They set up an educational fund worth £100,000, and in so doing opened the door of the debate just a little wider. Thank you very much for all that you have done,” he added as members of the family watched the debate from the gallery on Wednesday.
Chairman of the Caribbean Reparations Commission (CRC), Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, said the Trevelyans delivered a public apology and an initial £100,000 (One GBP=US$1.20 cents) to begin righting the wrongs of their ancestors who owned more than 1,000 slaves in the 19th Century.
Accompanied by a group of seven of her relatives, British-American BBC anchor/correspondent, Laura Trevelyan read an apology, signed by 104 of the descendants of the part owners of six plantations in Grenada.
The Trevelyans in their collaborative statement acknowledged slavery as “a crime against humanity,” noting also “its damaging effect continues to present day.
“We repudiate our ancestors’ involvement in it, and urge the British government to enter into meaningful negotiations with the governments of the Caribbean in order to make appropriate reparations through CARICOM and bodies such as the Grenada National Reparations Committee,” said family spokespersons.
Lewis, the Norwich South representative, described the Commonwealth as a “relationship between Britain and her former colonies”, and Caribbean countries as “a partner who has endured 400 years of the most hideous abuse.
“We as a country and as a Parliament have to remember that, until we acknowledge the past, play our part in resolving matters, and help to build a better future, we will never be able to heal and move forward, and a significant number of people will never truly feel a part of this country. That cannot be allowed to happen.
“We should live up to our words. We often talk in this place about collectively wanting to take our country forward into a bright future. The issue of reparatory justice must be confronted now.
“If this Government do not do it, the next government, whoever they may be, will find the arguments growing stronger by the year, by the day, by the week,” the opposition legislator said,.
Another Labour parliamentarian Dawn Butler in supporting calls for reparation, said “reparations are about making amends for centuries of violence and discrimination against those countries.
“It is interesting that people say ‘Let’s forget what happened’, when those countries are still in debt, their jewels and artefacts are in museums in this country, and we refuse to give them back. A lot of reparation is needed, whether it be economic reparations or an acknowledgement of what happened.”
But government legislator, Daniel Kawczynski said he and Lewis “might not entirely agree on the matter”, giving Caribbean countries “tariff-free” access to the UK is more important than reparation.
“I would say to him that I have campaigned for many years for compensation for Poland from Germany, because 98 per cent of the city of my birth, Warsaw, was destroyed in 1944. The Germans still refuse to pay that compensation, so I entirely understand his motives and strength of feeling.”
Foreign Office minister David Rutley did not answer the calls for reparation during the debate, saying instead “we believe that the most effective way for the UK to respond to the cruelty of the past is to ensure that current and future generations do not forget what happened, that we address racism, and that we continue to work together to tackle today’s challenges, such as climate change, through the initiatives that I have set out.
“Those need to be hard-hitting initiatives that will make a difference in people’s lives and help Caribbean nations move forward,” Rutley said.