- By Joshua Nevitt
- BBC Politics
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has rejected a call for the government to apologize and pay compensation for the UK’s historic role in slavery.
Labor MP Bill Ribeiro-Ade asked if he would make a “full and meaningful apology” and “commit to restorative justice”.
“No,” said the Prime Minister, adding that “trying to untangle our history is not the right way forward.”
The UK government has never officially apologized for its role in the trade.
Former BBC journalist and compensation campaigner Laura Trevelyan said she welcomed Sunak’s “commitment to understanding Britain’s history and not running away from it”.
The transatlantic slave trade saw millions of Africans enslaved and forced to work, mainly on plantations in the Caribbean and the Americas, for centuries from about 1500.
The British government and monarchy were prominent participants in the trade, along with other European countries.
Britain also had a major role in ending trade with Parliament passing the Act to Abolish Slavery in 1833.
This year, Caribbean leaders and activists and descendants of slave owners put increasing pressure on the UK government to get involved in the reparations movement.
Reparation is widely recognized as compensation given for something deemed wrong or unfair, and it can take many forms.
Tony Blair had earlier expressed his “deep sorrow” over slavery when he was prime minister in 2006, but he was criticized by reparations campaigners for not going further.
In 2007, he was asked why he had previously stopped apologizing for the UK’s role in trade during a press conference with Ghana’s then President John Kufuor.
“Well, I said it,” said Mr. Blair, “we’re sorry. And I say it again now.”
Dame Ribeiro Addy brought up the UK’s historic role in slavery during the Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons.
During his recent appearance at the PMQs, she said the late Labor MP Bernie Grant “asked for an apology to people of African descent, living and dead, for our country’s role in slavery and colonialism”.
Ribeiro Ade asked Mr Sunak if he would “do what Bernie Grant asked all those years ago”.
“No, sir,” said Mr. Sunak. “What I think our focus should be now is, of course, understanding our history and all its parts, not running away from it, but for the time being making sure we have a society that is inclusive and tolerant of people of all backgrounds.
“That’s something we are committed to on this side of the House and will continue to deliver. But trying to deselect our date is not the right way forward and it’s not something we’re going to focus our energies on.”
This week, the descendants of some of the UK’s wealthiest slave owners launched an activist movement, urging the government to apologize for slavery and provide reparative justice.
One of the group’s founders is former TV presenter Laura Trevelyan, who recently quit the BBC to become a full-time campaigner for slavery reparations.
Apologies for her ancestors’ slave-owning past in Grenada, Trevelyan said slavery was “a brutal part of Britain’s history that left a painful legacy in the Caribbean and in Britain”.
“Since 2014, the Caribbean countries have been asking the former colonial powers to engage in discussions based on their 10-point compensation plans,” she said.
“I hope the British government will not cede the Caribbean to China’s influence, and will begin to repair the damage of the past by striking back.” CaricumInvitation to talks.
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