Three members of the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) were in no mood to overlook the atrocities committed by Britain, including slavery, with the Royal family at the helm, as the House of Representatives on Tuesday paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth II who died September 8 at age 96.
The Queen, who was Jamaica’s Head of State, was Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, having sat on the throne for over 70 years, and one of the longest-serving monarchs in history.
The trio of St Andrew South Western Member of Parliament (MP) Dr Angela Brown-Burke, St Catherine Southern MP Fitz Jackson, and the outgoing MP for St Ann South Eastern, Lisa Hanna, said it was time to fix past wrongs.
They highlighted some of the wrongs committed by Britain during the period of colonisation as the British High Commissioner to Jamaica, Judith Slater, sat in the chamber.
After first extending sympathies to “the family members of the Queen and all her people”, Brown-Burke, who led the way said: “I also speak as a descendant of field slaves on Mr Brown’s (slave master) plantation and, therefore, I could not extend sympathies without my mind straying to some of the other dark and ugly aspects of her reign”.
While stating that she had no intention of going into the details, Brown-Burke said: “As an individual who, by virtue of the colour of my skin and where I come from, live a reality that has been determined by our colonial past, I stand right here representing some individuals who have the same cultural heritage that I do, and I will not, for one second, be silenced or be quieted because I happen to be in the House of Parliament. After all, this is the people’s House; this is their House, all the people’s House.”
Brown-Burke, who is also Chairman of the PNP, said she was duty-bound while extending sympathies to the Royal Family, to “also place on record that the outstanding issues of reparatory justice and being a fully independent and sovereign country must be something that we do not leave behind”.
She also noted that protocol dictated that one be polite and that there be a period of mourning for the country’s Head of State. However, she expressed “surprise that here in Jamaica we’re actually mourning longer than even Britain”.
That was a reference to Prime Minister Andrew Holness declaring 12 days of mourning while the UK has declared 10 days.
For his part, Jackson distanced himself from sentiments expressed on behalf of Jamaicans by the Prime Minister and fellow Opposition MP Phillip Paulwell, who both heaped praise on the Queen in their tributes.
“There are some very uncomfortable truths that we don’t like to talk about but they’re truths nonetheless,” Jackson stated.
“And if we close our eyes and ears to them they don’t go away. And if we do that, quite frankly, we become hypocrites, speakers of the convenient things,” he added.
Lauding Brown-Burke for her remarks, Jackson questioned what contribution the Queen made to Jamaica during her 70 years on the throne. He noted that 60 of those years would have been “during our independence and 10 were during our colonial past”.
Jackson stated that remnants of the past remain and cannot be denied or swept under the carpet. He suggested that one of the wrongs that remain is a lack of apology from Britain for the atrocities of slavery.
“I’ve come to appreciate the best way to deal with an unfortunate past is to face it, acknowledge it and at the very least, if you sincerely believe it’s wrong, to make a humble apology for that wrong. That’s the very least,” he said while being interrupted by government members.
Undeterred, he continued: “I heard the Prime Minister spoke, and I heard my leader of Opposition business spoke, and he said he spoke on behalf of all of us. I could not sit here and let the record reflect that I concur with those [remarks]. I don’t, and that’s my sincere position, and I just want to register it.”
Jackson said that, like Brown-Burke, he spoke on behalf of Jamaicans outside the Parliament, who elected him to serve.
In her tribute, Hanna, who is also the Opposition Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, noted that the Queen personified strength, grace and determination.
“She was a true definition of duty to country,” said Hanna.
Hanna then argued that “the death of the Queen places the United Kingdom at a new crossroads to bend the arc of history towards justice”.
“From our part of the world, we must not forget that Jamaica is still a realm of the British Monarchy. We’ve watched the political developments over the past few years and its history moving forward.
“One issue that comes to mind as a Member of Parliament in a former British colony, and we’re all aware, each and every one of us in here, of the evils of slavery, which are still alive and present. So is the question of the wealth gained by the United Kingdom, including the Monarchy from its Empire,” said Hanna.
She posited that Commonwealth nations “are united in our differences in the belief in the importance of reparatory justice”.
Hanna said: “We would like to see Britain perhaps face up to the legacy of some of its participation in this reality and to acknowledge its history and the consequences thereof and begin to take some concrete steps to rectify it”.
The outgoing MP said that King Charles, who succeeded his mother on her death, and the new Prime Minister Liz Truss both have the unique opportunity to courageously redefine Britain’s image into action.
“Not with what we call in Jamaica ‘a bag a mouth’ with outdated platitudes intended to make people momentarily feel nice but with real action,” she said.
Hanna is imploring the new king and prime minister to “urgently realise that Britain’s approach to its past has been, and continues to be misaligned with current expectations of their former colonies.
“It is time to correct their historical wrongs by resetting its political, economic and social systems for future generations. If not, we, in Jamaica, will only watch that country walk alone, backwards into the future with its leaders’ eyes closed,” she said.