Reparations for past colonies could lead to limitless liabilities

News Letter editorial on Wednesday April 27 2022:
News Letter editorialNews Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were in the Caribbean last month they ran into protests and controversies.

Some of these related to local disputes about which Prince William and Kate Middleton could not be expected to do anything.

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But there were also calls for ‘reparations’ over past slavery.

While royals would not comment on such matters, the concept of paying damages for past colonial wrongs is one that seems unlike to go away.

In Ireland there are similar, or parallel calls, for recompense relating to alleged past suffering at the hands of the British state. There has been talk (albeit not much) about reparations to Ireland for alleged former exploitation of the island by the English. There has also been if anything a growth in references to much of the land of Ulster having been ‘stolen’ in the plantation.

Now William’s uncle, Prince Edward, is in the spotlight for allegedly having shown ‘disinterest’ in reparations for Caribbean nations.

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The Earl of Wessex gave a nervous laugh after remarks from the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, who urged him and the Countess of Wessex to use their “diplomatic influence” to achieve “reparatory justice” for the country.

This is very unfair on the royals, given that they will never be in a position to authorise or decline major political decisions such as the paying of reparations.

But it is also a worrying trend.

Britain’s colonial history is receding increasingly far into the past. Much of the empire was gone 70 or more years ago. Many colonies were last thriving centuries back and so any exploitative riches might have been amassed far into the past.

It would be madness to blame current generations for decisions taken so long ago. It would also open financial floodgates to potentially limitless liabilities. And it would be pandering to a sentimentalised view of history.