Ben Riley-Smith, Telegraph, September 30, 2015
David Cameron faced calls to “personally atone” for his family’s historic ties to slavery as his first day visiting Jamaica was overshadowed by a row about reparations.
The Prime Minister was publicly pressed on whether Britain will pay compensation to Caribbean countries for its role in the slave trade by Portia Simpson Miller, Jamaica’s Prime Minister.
Campaigners accused the UK of racism for compensating slaver owners but not those enslaved when the practice was abolished in 1833 and demanded Mr Cameron issue a public apology.
At least one Jamaican MP has threatened to turn his back when the Prime Minister addresses the Jamaican Parliament if he fails to discuss reparations.
It comes with Mr Cameron on a two-day trip to the Caribbean, becoming the first British leader to visit Jamaica in 14 years before moving on to Grenada.
Ahead of his visit, Number 10 sources insisted Mr Cameron did not believe in paying reparations for slavery, calling it a “centuries old” issue.
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 focussed on “talking about the future”.
However there is growing pressure from Jamaican campaigners and politicians for Mr Cameron to discuss the issue of reparations when he addresses a special session of the parliament.
Links between Mr Cameron’s family and slavery have resurfaced ahead of the visit. General Sir James Duff, an army officer and Mr Cameron’s first cousin six times removed according to records, was compensated when slavery was abolished.
Sir James, who the Prime Minister is related to on his father’s side, was awarded £4,101 when he forfeited 202 slaves on the Grange Sugar Estate in Jamaica–equal to more than £3m today.
Bert Samuels, a member of the National Commission on Reparations which is demanding billions of pounds be paid in compensation, said Mr Cameron must apologise over slavery during his visit.
“His lineage has been traced and his forefathers were slave-owners and benefited from slavery,” Mr Samuels told Television Jamaica. He added: “Therefore he needs to atone, to apologise personally and on behalf of his country.”
Mr Samuels said that British salve owners had won compensation from the government after abolition thanks to lobbying but that slaves themselves never got any money. “We were left behind because of racism,” he added.
During a bilateral meeting on Tuesday, Mrs Simpson Miller pressed Mr Cameron on whether Britain will pay damages for its historic slavery links.
“I brought to the Prime Minister’s attention the issue of reparations, indicating that Jamaica is involved in a process under the auspices of the Caribbean Community to engage the UK on the matter while we are aware of the obvious sensitivities involved,” she said in a statement to cameras sitting alongside Mr Cameron afterwards. The Prime Minister failed to mention reparations in his own speech.
Ed Bartlett, foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Jamaica Labour Party, demanded Mr Cameron mention reparations in his speech to Parliament and said the issue was gaining momentum.
Mike Henry, one of Jamaica’s longest serving MP, has said he will turn his back if the Prime Minister fails to discuss compensation.
“If it is not on the agenda, I will not attend any functions involving the visiting prime minister, and I will cry shame on those who do, considering that there was not a dissenting voice in the debate in Parliament,” he told the Jamaican Gleaner.
Number 10 moved to play down the row by saying it had been long-standing government policy not to pay reparations over slavery.
“On reparations, the Prime Minister said he understood it was an issue for some people,” a Number 10 spokesman said of his meeting with Mrs Simpson Miller.
“He noted that the Government abhorred slavery and indeed had passed the Modern Slavery Act to tackle human trafficking today.
“He reiterated the long-standing position of the United Kingdom that we do not believe reparations is the right approach.
“The Prime Minister underlined that he wanted to focus on the future and how the United Kingdom could help to spur economic growth across Jamaica.”