Labour MPs have demanded Britain stump up reparations to Caribbean countries for ‘400 years of exploitative colonial history’.
Clive Lewis, who was a shadow minister under ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, led the calls for compensatory payments over the impact of slavery.
In a Westminster Hall debate in Parliament, the Norwich South MP urged the Government to enter ‘meaningful negotiations’ with Caribbean nations.
He warned a failure to do so could put the future of the Commonwealth at risk.
Mr Lewis, whose father is from Grenada, claimed that Britain’s former colonies had endured ‘400 years of the most hideous abuse’.
He described the issue of reparations as the ‘elephant in the room’ and insisted it should not be ‘dismissed as the obsession of a small group of so-called woke extremists’.
Mr Lewis was supported in his call by fellow Labour MPs Nadia Whittome and Dawn Butler.
But Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski stressed that giving Caribbean states ‘tariff-free access’ to the UK economy ‘is more important than reparations’.
Opening yesterday’s debate in Westminster Hall, Mr Lewis acknowledged the debate over Britain’s colonial past ‘evokes great passion and sometimes anger’.
He told MPs it could be ‘triggering’ for questions to be asked about ‘the very story we tell ourselves and the world around us about who we are and what we represent’.
Mr Lewis compared this to being in a relationship where ‘our partners often challenge those notions of who we think we are’.
‘The Commonwealth is a relationship between Britain and her former colonies, which, like a partner who has endured 400 years of the most hideous abuse, seek not charity but restitution,’ he added.
Mr Lewis suggested the alternative would be ‘divorce in the form of growing republican sentiment across the Caribbean’.
‘Abusive partners who cannot say sorry cannot change, can never grow and can never develop,’ he said.
‘Who in their right mind would want to stay in an abusive relationship like that?’
Mr Lewis admitted the subject of reparations was ‘a difficult issue’ for his own Labour Party, adding: ‘Especially in the so-called Red Wall seats, where we feel such issues could alienate potential Labour voters.’
But he expressed his hope than an incoming Labour government – with David Lammy as the ‘first Caribbean foreign secretary’ – would tackle the issue.
Ms Whittome supported Mr Lewis’s call for reparations, telling MPs it was the ‘right and fair thing to do’ because of the wealth that Britain ‘extracted’ from other nations, but also ‘because of our role in the climate crisis, which threatens the very future of the Caribbean’.
Ms Butler, a former minister, said reparations ‘are about making amends for centuries of violence and discrimination’.
‘A lot of reparation is needed, whether it be economic reparations or an acknowledgement of what happened,’ she added.
Mr Kawczynski told the debate that Britain should use its post-Brexit freedoms to increase economic ties with Caribbean countries, which he suggested would be ‘more important than reparations’.
He said he and Mr Lewis ‘might not entirely agree on the matter’ but pointed to his own ancestry in understanding the Labour MPs ‘strength of feeling’.
‘I would say to him that I have campaigned for many years for compensation for Poland from Germany, because 98 per cent of the city of my birth, Warsaw, was destroyed in 1944,’ the Tory MP said.
‘The Germans still refuse to pay that compensation, so I entirely understand his motives and strength of feeling.
‘I respect that and his right to raise the issue, but I say to him again—gently, delicately and irrespective of the differences we have—that I hope we can agree to work together to slash those tariffs and restrictions, which have existed for decades with respect to Caribbean countries and their commercial entities.’
Foreign Office minister David Rutley did not answer the calls for reparation, instead telling MPs: ‘We believe that the most effective way for the UK to respond to the cruelty of the past is to ensure that current and future generations do not forget what happened, that we address racism, and that we continue to work together to tackle today’s challenges, such as climate change, through the initiatives that I have set out.
‘Those need to be hard-hitting initiatives that will make a difference in people’s lives and help Caribbean nations move forward.’