British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has refused to apologise or to pay reparations for the UK’s historic role in the slavery, saying that ‘trying to unpick our history is not the right way forward’.
According to the Guardian, Sunak was questioned in the House of Commons by the Labour MP Bell Riberio-Addy on Wednesday, where she said that former heads of state and prime minister had shared sorrow or deep regret since the late MP Bernie Grant asked the government to apologise 23 years ago.
The Labour MP asked PM Sunak to “offer a full and meaningful apology for our country’s role in slavery and colonialism, and commit to reparatory justice?”
In a response Sunak said, “No, what I think our focus should now be on doing is, of course, understanding our history and all its parts, not running away from it, but right now making sure that we have a society which is inclusive and tolerant of people from all backgrounds”.
“That’s something that we on this side of the house are committed to doing and will continue to deliver, but trying to unpick our history is not the right way forward, and it’s not something that we will focus our energies on”, he added.
Millions of Africans enslaved and force to work in the Caribbean and Americas especially in the plantation. The monarchy and the government were take parts in the slave trade, alongside other European nations, the BBC reported.
This year, Caribbean leaders, descendants of slave owners and activists have made pressure on the government to engage with the reparations movement.
While speaking in Commons Riberio-Addy said, “There has been no acknowledgement of the wealth that has been amassed or the fact that our country took out the largest loan it ever has to pay off the slave owners, and not the enslaved”.
In 2007, while speaking on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade the former British PM Tony Blair said that “I have said we are sorry and I say it again.”
Meanwhile, Labour party spokesman has said that Ribeiro-Addy’s call for reparations was not party policy. “She is right to highlight the appalling history of the slave trade”, but “on the specific point of reparations, the point that she was making is not Labour party policy”.
Earlier, Buckingham Palace announced that academics will gain greater access to royal archives, and that King Charles III takes the issue “profoundly seriously”.
Charles’s 17th century predecessor King James II was the largest investor in the Royal African Company, which became a brutal pioneer of the transatlantic slave trade. Last year, Charles told a meeting of Commonwealth leaders that in order to “unlock the power of our common future, we must also acknowledge the wrongs which have shaped our past”.
But there was no apology from the then-heir to the throne for the royal family’s involvement in the transportation and selling of people for profit.
Last month the Labour MPs Clive Lewis and Dawn Butler called for Sunak’s government to enter “meaningful negotiations” with the UK’s former Caribbean colonies and pay them reparations to mitigate the impact of slavery.
Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2023