Barbados ready to oust Queen as head of state as it prepares to become a republic

A report by Stephen Gibbs for The Times of London.

When Dame Sandra Mason wakes up on December 1 in the 18th-century Government House in Bridgetown, she might be forgiven for feeling that nothing has changed.

But the previous day, Barbados will have become a republic, and she will be president. The governor-general was nominated to the position last week by Mia Mottley, the prime minister, as part of the island’s preparations to bid farewell to the Queen as its head of state.

Mason, 72, a former high court judge, will serve four years in the largely ceremonial role.

Some have expressed alarm that momentous decisions, such as who can be president, if that person has to be Barbadian by birth and how many terms can be served in succession, are not being openly discussed.

Devaron Bruce, a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, said: “You have major constitutional change happening, and yet there has not been sufficient input by citizens across the island. We want to know what the criteria are to be president, what the limitations are. Many of these things we don’t know.”

It was Mason, at the state opening of parliament last year, who declared the government’s decision that “the time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind”. A deadline was set: the anniversary of the island’s 1966 independence from the UK, which is celebrated on November 30 each year.

At that stage it was not known that the woman who was appointed governor-general by the Queen in 2017 would also end up replacing her.

Barbados, population 280,000, is one of the Queen’s 16 remaining realms. The last time she visited was in 1989.

Plans to become a republic have been discussed by successive governments almost since independence. A referendum has never been held, but opinion polls have tended to show that a majority support the change.

Mottley, whose Labour party secured a clean sweep of all 30 parliamentary seats in the 2018 elections, has been able to forge ahead with the plan to meet the November 30 deadline, with minimal opposition. Her supporters say that no referendum or formal public consultation took place when Barbados declared independence in 1966. “That is correct,” Bruce said. “But independence was 55 years ago and I would hope that our understanding of democracy has progressed since then.”

Mottley said: “There is no change to the name of independence day; there is no change to the name of Barbados. Barbados is Barbados.”

The only changes that the government has confirmed are that the Queen will no longer appear on future issues of banknotes and coins, and the Royal Barbados Police Force will drop the word royal.

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