Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says it would have been “churlish” of him to not attend the May 6 coronation of King Charles III in light of the assistance he gave to St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) during the April 2021 eruption of La Soufriere volcano.
At the coronation, SVG was represented by Governor General Dame Susan Dougan, her husband, Hugh Dougan, Gonsalves and his wife, Eloise Gonsalves.
On Sunday, Gonsalves said he remains opposed to the British monarch being sovereign of SVG and hopes that the constitutional provision that allows for it to exist is no longer in place in 2030.
In 2009, Vincentians rejected, in a referendum, proposed changes to the Constitution, which included replacing the British monarchy with a non-executive president as head of state.
Gonsalves was asked on WE FM’s “Issue at Hand” whether he thinks that Vincentians would replace the British monarch by the end of the decade.
“Conceivably. And I think it’s a priority, but there’re priorities and there’re priorities; there are lists of priorities,” said Gonsalves, who travelled to England to attend the May 6 coronation of Charles III and his wife, Camilla, as king and queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms, including SVG.
“… I recognise King Charles as the King of St. Vincent and Grenadines. That’s a fact of life — constitutionally. I had to recognise him, and that he has a representative here — Dame Susan,” the prime minister said.
“But I can’t accept in me that somebody who was not born here, who didn’t grow up here, who doesn’t live here, who is there only because something started in 1763 when Britain and France divided the Eastern Caribbean countries among themselves, and then from that moment onwards, every monarch there is head of state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” the prime minister said.
“I just don’t know how anybody can simply say, ‘Well, that is something which is acceptable’ or that they could — that it adds to stability,” he further stated, adding that having the British monarch as sovereign of SVG “is debilitating psychologically”.
Gonsalves attended the coronation on a day that his Minister of Agriculture, Saboto Caesar, who is seen as a potential successor to Gonsalves, described it as a “celebration without a conscience”.
“I see the ‘coronation’ as a timely reminder that we must rise up and demand reparative justice,” Caesar wrote.
“We must not allow a selected few to own the process and turn it into a simplified discussion exercise. Neither must we sit with folded hands and suggest that only the handful of hard-working anti-colonialists should continue the fight without our help.”
One commentator told iWitness News that in light of his position on the monarchy and unresolved issues between the UK and its former colonies, Gonsalves should have opted not to attend as the presence of the Governor General was enough to represent Kingstown at the event.
On Sunday, Gonsalves said he understood that some people have asked the question, “Well, Ralph, if that is your position, why did you go to the coronation?”
The prime minister said:
“First of all, he has to be recognised as king. Because that’s what the Constitution says. And the people of St. Vincent and Grenadines validated the monarch, politically, in 2009…
“So, I recognise all that, I acknowledge all that but, in my body, in my bones, in my blood, I can’t accept it. But there’s nothing I can do about it. Because it is what it is … until that is changed.”
He noted that to change the constitutional provision requires a two-third majority both in Parliament followed by two-thirds majority in a referendum.
Gonsalves said this is “very difficult” to achieve.
The prime minister said he also attended the coronation because King Charles “is — compared with the British government itself — on a more progressive path” in relation to climate change, including on issues of adaptation and mitigation.
“He has been a long advocate. Of course, we have differences but at least he’s in the right path,” Gonsalves said.
He further said that former UK Prime Ministers David Cameron and Tony Blair and current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who is of Indian descent, has said that they will not apologise for the UK’s role in slavery.
“… whereas Charles, at Kigali in Rwanda at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, he said, reparations is a conversation, the time of which has now come for that question to be discussed maturely, we must have a serious conversation about it.
“And he has given support to a group of researchers to see the links, the details of the links between the British monarchy and the enslavement of African bodies. Of course, we know the link but they’re going through this process,” Gonsalves said.
“And then it would be churlish … for us, having received the invitation, to not to have gone when he, … when he was Prince Charles, called me in the middle of the volcanic eruption and ask ‘What can I help you with here with the humanitarian issue?’”
Gonsalves, recounting his conversation with the then Prince Charles, said:
“I said, well, listen, I’m sure you have helped with the British Red Cross — of which he is president — you might even have put some of your own money. I said to him, all we need here is the Red Cross to be strengthened, because there’s so many things they have to do.
“I say, so I’m looking at things as we get out of this (the impact of the volcanic eruption) … I said when you came in 2019, I discussed two things with you, reparations and university scholarships.”
The prime minister said that within a week of the conversation, the then Prince Charles got the Vice Chancellor of University of Wales Trinity St. David to call him.
“And then we concluded 55 scholarships — 40 undergraduate and 15 graduate, the 15 graduate ones are by distance with a total value in excess of 4 million pounds.”
Gonsalves said that at the coronation, “… those parts, which involved incantations about homage and loyalty and ‘God save the King’ and, and all the rest of it, I keep my mouth shut on those things.
“I involve myself in those things of Christian worship, including saying the Our Father Prayer when the Archbishop of Canterbury led that particular prayer during the service.”