King Charles is sitting on a reparations time bomb

King Charles III may be on the cusp of a major debate about the monarchy, slavery and reparations at a time when a disconnect with young people poses the biggest threat to his reign.

Caribbean nations are reportedly planning to appeal directly to the British monarchy for reparations and an apology for slavery, bypassing the government, in what would be a new strategy.

Lawyer Arley Gill, chair of Grenada’s Reparations Commission, told U.K. newspaper The Daily Telegraph: “We are hoping that King Charles will revisit the issue of reparations and make a more-profound statement beginning with an apology, and that he would make resources from the royal family available for reparative justice. He should make some money available.

King Charles Visits Slave Port
King Charles III smiles in sunglasses during a trip to Christiansborg (Osu) Castle, a former Danish slave trade fort, in Accra, Ghana, on November 3, 2018. During the visit, he denounced slavery as an appalling atrocity but stopped short of an apology.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

“We are not saying that he should starve himself and his family, and we are not asking for trinkets,” Gill added.

“But we believe we can sit around a table and discuss what can be made available for reparative justice.”

Jamaica’s Culture Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange has also talked about petitioning the British monarchy directly as far back as 2021. In June 2023, the move was being finalized. Grange would have the support of vocal protesters who drew the world’s attention during a visit to the country by Prince William and Kate Middleton in March 2022.

Professor Rosalea Hamilton, a Jamaican academic and campaigner who helped organize the protests, told Newsweek: “All of these channels should be explored. I think there is no question of the debt that’s owed, and it’s well established now. The only question is when and the terms of the repayment.

“I don’t think the British royal family can run away from it indefinitely,” Hamilton added.

Charles and William have both condemned slavery before but have always stopped short of an apology, in line with the official position of the U.K. government.

However, the stance is becoming more difficult to justify in 2023 after a series of events created new momentum behind calls for reparations.

In July, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands apologized for slavery while adding that not all of the country’s population would support him. It showed that royals can take individual action, even when it is controversial, and continue to represent their people.

Quoted in U.K. newspaper The Guardian, Willem-Alexander said: “On this day that we remember the Dutch history of slavery, I ask forgiveness for this crime against humanity.

“As your king and as a member of the government, I make this apology myself. And I feel the weight of the words in my heart and my soul,” the Dutch king added.

In March, former BBC journalist and reparations campaigner Laura Trevelyan and her family agreed to donate more than £100,000 [$125,000] to education projects in Grenada. This money acted as reparations for her family’s historic role in slavery in the Caribbean country.

Judge Patrick Robinson, of the International Court of Justice, part of the U.N., said in August that Britain cannot ignore its colonial past for ever: “I believe that the United Kingdom will not be able to resist this movement towards the payment of reparations: it is required by history and it is required by law.”

Robinson presided over the trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević, for war crimes and genocide. If the judge is correct about Britain, then the royal family members will have a limited window in which to get themselves on the right side of history.

If the king were to get there first, then it could represent a PR coup for the British monarchy after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle‘s Oprah Winfrey interview triggered a major debate about the royals and racism.

King Charles at ex-Danish Slave Fort
King Charles III learns about the impact of the slave trade during a tour of Christiansborg Castle, in Accra, Ghana, on November 3, 2018. The monarch is under pressure to pay slavery reparations.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

However, if Charles leaves it too late and Britain is cajoled into paying out against its will, then the royals will appear as though they were unwilling to accept justice and were rooted in the past.

The issue is particularly problematic for Charles because of the way it intersects with another slow-building crisis—his difficult relationship with Generation Z Britons.

The U.K.’s 18- to 24-year-olds predominantly oppose Charles, with 52 percent viewing him negatively and 28 percent viewing him positively, according to a YouGov poll of 212 Gen Z adults between August 26 and 28.

And in May, 51 percent of U.K. 18- to 24-year-olds supported the royal family paying reparations compared to 22 percent who opposed the move, a separate YouGov survey showed.

If those respondents were typical across the generations, then Charles’ job might be more straightforward. However, any move to create a reparations system would likely be controversial among older Brits, with 60 percent of over 65-year-olds against the move and 19 percent supporting it.

Vocal opposition would also likely come from the nation’s media, including high-profile commentators such as Piers Morgan. He is already on record as opposing the notion that the king should take responsibility for the actions of past monarchs.

The king has, through Historic Royal Palaces, an independent charity that manages crown property, backed research into “the links between the British monarchy and the transatlantic slave trade during the late 17th and 18th centuries,” a spokesperson told The Guardian in April.

However, even once the research is published, there remain questions on what to do about any links uncovered and whether they should pave the way for reparations.

And if Charles ignores young people and simply hopes that Gen Z change their views as they get older, then he takes a significant gamble.

Because if today’s younger generation retain their growing opposition to Charles, the monarchy and the royal family’s stance on slavery, then in 10 or 20 years’ time, they may make up a far-greater portion of British society.

And if the disconnect has not been resolved by then, the British Royal Family may find it has a bigger problem on its hands than Harry’s memoir.

Jack Royston is Newsweek‘s chief royal correspondent based in London. You can find him on Twitter at @jack_royston and read his stories on Newsweek’s The Royals Facebook page.

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