David Cameron is under pressure from Jamaica to publicly apologise for Britain’s role in the slave trade and make reparations to the Caribbean state.
The prime minister arrived in Jamaica on Wednesday promising a £200m injection into the country’s infrastructure to build roads, ports and bridges to “reinvigorate” ties with the region.
He also pledged £25m towards a new prison so hundreds of foreign criminals can be sent home to the Caribbean rather than serve their sentences in the UK.
However, his mission has been overshadowed by fresh calls from the Jamaican government to make financial amends and apologise for Britain’s involvement in historic slavery.
Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said she had raised the controversial question during one-to-one talks with Mr Cameron at her official residence in Kingston.
She said she told him that while she was “aware of the obvious sensitivities”, Jamaica was “involved in a process under the auspices of the Caribbean community to engage the UK on the matter”.
Mr Cameron has not addressed the subject and now faces pressure to mention Britain’s involvement when he is to address Jamaica’s parliament on Wednesday.
No. 10 said that he “understood it was an issue for some people” but “reiterated the long-standing position of the United Kingdom that we do not believe reparations is the right approach”.
Campaigners accused the UK of racism for compensating slave owners but not those enslaved when the practice was abolished in 1834, and are now demanding a public apology from Mr Cameron along with reparations.
David Cameron meets with Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller
One Jamaican MP has threatened to boycott Mr Cameron’s parliamentary address if he does not touch on the subject. Critics claim there is a need for a personal apology as they suggest one of Mr Cameron’s own ancestors was paid compensation for his loss of slaves during the time of abolition.
Bert Samuels, a member of Jamaica’s National Commission on Reparations, told Television Jamaica: “His lineage has been traced and his forefathers were slave-owners and benefited from slavery. Therefore he needs to atone, to apologise personally and on behalf of his country.”
This appears to be a reference to General Sir James Duff, Mr Cameron’s cousin six times removed, who received more than £4,000 compensation, worth around £3m in today’s terms.
The controversial call for reparations comes as Mr Cameron becomes the first British leader to visit the country in 14 years.
Speaking to reporters on the plane to Kingston, the prime minister refused to say he would bring up the topic and insisted the trip was focused on “talking about the future”.
However, he faces pressure both overseas and at home as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Mr Cameron should apologise for the slave trade.
Speaking at Labour’s annual conference in Brighton, Mr Corbyn said: “I think we should apologise for the slave trade and understand that the history of Jamaica is, yes, one of amazing joy and achievement since independence in 1962, but it’s also a history of the most gross exploitation of people.
“I spent my youth in Jamaica, I lived in Jamaica for two years, and I love the country very much indeed.
“We should be doing all we can to try and right the wrongs of the past – improve trade facilities and arrangements, improve support for Jamaica. That is in a sense a form of reparation, though I would be interested to hear what the proposals are and what the discussions are.”