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I have been reading about Barbados removing the Queen as its head of state and replacing the monarchy with a presidential system. I thought this was taking place after a referendum, but I then saw what Andrew Rosindell said in the House of Commons:

On a further point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a matter of great sadness that this evening one of Her Majesty’s realms will cease to be a realm. Barbados is to become a republic. May I say how deeply sorrowful I feel, as I hope all Members will, at the loss of a realm that has been loyal to Her Majesty the Queen, and at the fact that this is being done without a referendum and without the consent of the people of that realm?

These, sadly, are the last few hours of Barbados as one of Her Majesty’s realms. May I also express my sorrow at the loss of those wonderful people who have been part of Her Majesty’s realms and the Commonwealth for so long? I trust that any other realms that decide to adopt a constitutional change of this magnitude will do so, but only once the people have given their consent, rather than simply as a result of a decision by the Government of the day.

I hope that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, will relay this to those who need to know, because we are part of a great family, and to lose a member of that family today is a matter not just for sorrow, because it also feels like a great loss: it is like losing a proud member of our family. I hope you will take that on board.

I looked for polls in Barbados but all I could find was a 2015 poll which showed that Barbadians were in favor of remaining a monarchy: 64% wanted the Queen to remain the head of state while 24% wanted to remove her.

Other countries had to hold referendums. Australia in 1999, Tuvalu in 2008, and St Vincent and the Grenadines in 2009. How did Barbados enact this change without holding a referendum, and has the Barbadian government given any indication as to why this course of action was taken?

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    I want to know if they said why they did it without a referendum and how that's even posible Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 15:40
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    I understand that, what I’m saying is that if you believe that they are two separate questions that you should ask two questions instead of asking one. Of course, if you believe that they are one question what you did is completely correct. Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 15:47
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    What’s your evidence for ”other countries had to hold referendums”, as opposed to “other countries chose to hold referendums”?
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 10:40
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    I really don't understand the reverence for referendums (referendi?) people in Parliamentary Democracies seem to have. They have no real constitutional status (Parliament would still have to act to change anything anyway), and making a major governmental change that can't easily be undone based on a one-off 50%+1 popular vote seems like utter folly.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 17:24
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    Have a look here to see that countries that constitutionally mandate a referendum for some purpose are the exception rather than the rule. In most countries referenda are akin to a publicity stunt. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Referendums_by_country
    – PatrickT
    Commented Dec 3, 2021 at 9:31

1 Answer 1

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Barbados was able to do so because under Article 49 of Barbados' Constitution, Parliament is empowered to alter the document through the passage of an Act through both of its Houses - as long as that bill is supported by at least two-thirds of the members of each House.

The bill in this case, the Constitution (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2021, had its first reading in the House of Assembly on September 28th, was passed by a vote of 25-0 the same day, and passed the Senate on October 6th. The bill allows for the election of a new President, to assume office on November 30th.

Quite why this was decided without a referendum is slightly more difficult to pin down - Prime Minister Mottley, the leader of the Barbados Labour Party (which won every seat in the elected House of Assembly after the last election in 2018) - gave this response when questioned in September 2020:

Williams: And from here on in, you're just going to actually do this - there's no referendum involved?

Mottley: That's right, no, twenty years ago we committed to a referendum, and since then every government, the major political parties have agreed that this is where the country must go - it is our judgement and we certainly campaigned on it in our manifesto that while we committed to a referendum on other issues, we didn't on this one, and we made it clear that this is where we believe the country must go. And in fact, there was a group of eminent Barbadians who would have before the last election, spoken to the former Prime Minister, spoken to myself as Leader of the Opposition, extracted commitments from both major political parties, and we are at the stage now where we're just simply going to - as Nike would say - just do it, make it happen.

However, I don't see any reference to this point in their 2018 manifesto, although the party does, on page 45, commit to:

  • Introducing National Dialogues, National Referenda and consulting with Barbadians on major national issues, such as the decriminalisation of recreational marijuana.

There is also a vague mention of modernising the "principal organs of governance as outlined in our Constitution" on page 41, but as far as I can see, no mention of the monarchy, presidents, or a republic.

The Prime Minister also referred to their commitment to a referendum 20 years ago - presumably a reference to a Referendum Bill introduced in late 2000 which did not make it through Parliament before it was dissolved in 2003. In 2005, the Barbados Labour Party committed further to holding a referendum on this issue:

I turn now to the question of the Referendum.

In 1994 as one of the pledges made to the people of Barbados, this Administration proclaimed that on a matter as fundamental as the change of our governance, such as would be involved in a move to a Republican status, the opinion of the people should be specifically and deliberately canvassed by way of a Referendum.

The entire Cabinet and the wider family of the Barbados Labour Party are firmly of the view that such a commitment is still fundamentally valid and must be fully honoured.

Later this year a Bill to amend the constitution to give effect to the various and sundry recommendations of the Forde Commission will be introduced into Parliament. The Amendments will make reference to the President as the Head of State of Barbados.

In advance of any such change, and in keeping with our commitment to the people, we propose to hold a Referendum specifically on the matter of the change from the Monarchical to the Republican system of Government.

In pursuit of this, we propose also to introduce into Parliament a new Referendum Bill that will seek public support for the move, expressly in the form in which it is recommended in the Forde Constitution Review Commission’s Report.

I have noted that the Leader of the Opposition, the Honourable Clyde Mascoll has declared his support in principle for both the change to Republican status and the holding of a Referendum.

I'm unable to find any manifesto commitment to abolish the monarchy without testing the support of the people in a referendum, nor any public change in their stance of requiring a referendum before enacting such a change prior to the last election in 2018 - however, doing so was fully within the power of the Parliament under the Constitution. It seems that the decision was made that as both major political parties supported the transition to a republic, it was decided that it was politically acceptable or expedient to do so without explicitly canvassing the electorate.

While you mention several countries which held referendums on transitioning to a republic, take the examples of Trinidad and Tobago, the Parliament of which amended the Constitution to abolish the monarchy in 1976 without a referendum, and of Fiji, which declared itself a republic in 1987 after a coup d'état.

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  • Not only that, but it appears that the members of the upper house (Senate) are appointed by the President. If Wikipedia is to be believed, all 25 members of the lower house (House of Assembly) voted in favour on 28 September 2021 and then the Senate voted in favour a few days later. The flavour this leaves is naturally that the politicians think the people are too stupid to be trusted. Not the greatest way to start a new chapter in the history of a country. Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 18:13
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    @mikerodent - It seems to be a fundamental truth that politics is a ratchet. It's very easy to keep asking the same question until you get the 'right' answer, but once you've got that answer, it's incredibly difficult to undo it.
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 23:38
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    There is always the prosaic argument that referenda are expensive and time-consuming. I don't know whether that's the reason here, but if literally every single elected politician voted for it, I find it hard to believe it could have been that controversial. Maybe they just didn't feel it was worth the expense.
    – Kevin
    Commented Dec 3, 2021 at 0:54

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