Belfast Telegraph

Home News UK

David Cameron rules out reparations for slavery during Jamaica visit

David Cameron has ruled out making reparations for Britain's role in slavery and urged Caribbean countries to "move on", during a visit to Jamaica.

The Prime Minister has come under pressure to say sorry and make financial amends but insisted the nations must look to the future and pointed to the UK's role in wiping slavery off the "face of our planet".

Jamaican prime minister Portia Simpson Miller raised the controversial question during one-to-one talks with the PM at her official residence in Kingston.

Mr Cameron later acknowledged "these wounds run very deep indeed" but told reporters: "On the issue of slavery, slavery is abhorrent, and as we remember the past we should also remember the extraordinary work that Britain did to wipe slavery off the face of our planet.

"I don't think reparations are the answer.

"I think now what we should be doing is looking to the future and not least the vital work that we do today getting rid of modern slavery and people being trafficked across our planet."

In the first visit to Jamaica by a British prime minister for 14 years, Mr Cameron addressed MPs in the country's parliament.

Hailing the "extraordinary ties" between the two nations, the Prime Minister announced a £360 million financial package for the Caribbean.

He told the parliament: "W hile there is indeed much to celebrate about our past, it would be wrong to do so while ignoring the most painful aspects of it - a period which should never be forgotten, and from which history has drawn the bitterest of lessons.

" Slavery was and is abhorrent in all its forms. It has no place whatsoever in any civilised society, and Britain is proud to have eventually led the way in its abolition.

" That the Caribbean has emerged from the long shadow it cast is testament to the resilience and spirit of its people. I acknowledge that these wounds run very deep indeed. But I do hope that, as friends who have gone through so much together since those darkest of times, we can move on from this painful legacy and continue to build for the future."

Mr Cameron said the funding showed Britain's "concrete" commitment to the region and included £30m to help attract investment and improve governance as well as £30m to make hospitals more resilient to natural disasters, such as hurricane strikes.

He added: " Together, this represents more than a quadrupling of Britain's support. It will make us the largest donor to the region. It will create jobs and save lives. And you can take it - literally - as a concrete statement of my commitment to the Caribbean."

The Prime Minister told MPs he dismissed suggestions that Britain is no longer as committed as it once was in the region.

"I hope that this visit, and the concrete support I've announced, will ensure that no-one should have reason to question the UK's commitment to the Caribbean in future," he said.

" My commitment to a full-on re-engagement here is absolute. And, ultimately, the reason for this is about much more than trade and assistance.

" I passionately believe that the UK should remain the partner of choice for the Commonwealth Caribbean - now and in the future."

A small group of protesters gathered outside the parliament brandishing placards that read "reparations now" as Mr Cameron gave his speech.

The address appeared to be warmly received in the chamber but the opposition benches were far from full.

Mrs Simpson Miller told MPs she had discussed the "difficult issues of reparations" with Mr Cameron and wanted to "actively engage the UK on the matter".

She added: "There's a common acceptance that the existence of excellent relationships does not mean the absence of different viewpoints. However the relations between Jamaica and the UK continue to be bound by mutual respect, trust and an unshakable commitment to dialogue."

The issue of slave-owning nations compensating former colonies for the trade is a hot one in the Caribbean, where national commissions have calculated the sums could run into trillions of dollars.

Critics had pointed to compensation paid to one of Mr Cameron's own ancestors for the loss of his slaves at the time of abolition in 1834 as a reason he should personally apologise.

Records show General Sir James Duff, a first cousin six times removed of the PM who was also an MP, was awarded compensation worth around £3 million in today's terms.


From Belfast Telegraph