Labour MP says Rishi Sunak should talk to region’s leaders after Trevelyan family announcements.
By Aamna Mohdin, The Guardian —
The Labour MP Clive Lewis has called on Rishi Sunak to enter negotiations with Caribbean leaders on paying reparations for Britain’s role in slavery, following the historic announcements by the Trevelyan family.
Speaking at a parliamentary debate on promoting financial security in the Caribbean, Lewis said the issue of reparations could not be dismissed as an obsession among a small group of “so-called woke extremists”.
He pointed to the recent announcements by the Trevelyans, an aristocratic British family, who made history by travelling to the Caribbean to publicly apologise for the ownership of more than 1,000 enslaved Africans and committed to paying reparations.
“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 said. “They acknowledge the financial and cultural advantage this has generated for them and urge the British government, as I will today, to enter into meaningful negotiations with the government of the Caribbeans in order to make appropriate reparations.”
Lewis added the announcements by the Trevelyan family had “opened the door of this debate just a little wider”.
Lewis went on to liken the relationship between the UK and the Commonwealth to an abusive relationship in which one partner has endured “400 years of the most hideous abuse, one who now seeks not charity, but restitution”.
He added: “This country will not be able to move on as a cohesive whole until these issues are resolved.”
During the debate, the Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski questioned whether reparations were the best way forward: “I think all members of this house will be incentivised and motivated to ensure that there is the greatest flow of capital to our allies and the Caribbean, but would he not agree with me that more importantly than reparations is giving the Caribbean states active tariff-free access to the United Kingdom, the world’s fifth largest economy, rather than the protectionist racket that they have experienced from the European Union, which inherently tried to restrict the flow of goods from the Caribbean to the European Union?”
Kawczynski stated that one of the reasons he campaigned for Brexit was the exclusion of Commonwealth citizens from freedom of movement.
In response, Lewis said: “I think we can have both a fair immigration system in this country, which we don’t have at the moment, and we can also have justice for the Caribbean. The two are not controversial and they’re not incompatible.”
Among the other handful of MPs at the debate was Labour’s Nadia Whittome, who spoke in support of Lewis. “The case for former colonial powers to pay reparations to the descendants of enslaved peoples is particularly strong,” she said, “given that the UK government was making compensation payments to descendants of enslavers, families and organisations in 2015.
“And the reason why reparations is the right and fair thing to do is, yes, because of the legacy of slavery and because wealthier countries like ours extracted and underdeveloped those societies, but also because of our role in the climate crisis – and the fact that threatens the very future of the Caribbean.”
In 1835, the Trevelyan family received £26,898, a significant sum at the time, in compensation from the British government for the abolition of slavery a year earlier. The enslaved men, women and children on their plantations received nothing, and were forced to work a further eight years unpaid as “apprentices”.
Source: The Guardian
Featured image: Clive Lewis (Photograph: Maureen McLean, Rex, Shutterstock)