As Barbados changes its head of state and becomes a republic with a president, I thought I would reflect on questions people ask me about the UK’s relationship with The Bahamas. I often get asked what my opinion is about whether The Bahamas should change its head of state. I usually, respectfully, reverse this question. This is a decision entirely for The Bahamas, its government and its people. But I thought it might be useful to look at some of the facts that frame our connections.
The UK, The Bahamas, and 13 other countries, for example, Canada, Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, and Jamaica, have Her Majesty the Queen as head of state. The fact of sharing a head of state does not mean the UK has any role in Bahamian, or other countries, governance. The 14 countries are independent sovereign nations with their own governments. The head of state is a broadly ceremonial role which supports the government in presenting and organizing the work of the country. The Bahamian government chooses the governor general who is the Queen’s representative in The Bahamas. The governor general carries out the functions in The Bahamas, such as the opening of Parliament and awarding of honors that the Queen and the royal family lead in the UK.
I am a high commissioner rather than an ambassador because The Bahamas is also a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The majority of the 54 members of the Commonwealth do not have the Queen as their head of state, for example, India, Malaysia, Singapore, and Rwanda.
Either realm or republic – the constitutional status is no reflection on the strength and quality of the bilateral relationship. As HRH The Prince of Wales eloquently said while attending the Barbadian ceremony:
“As your constitutional status changes, it was important to me that I should join you to reaffirm those things which do not change.
For example, the close and trusted partnership between Barbados and the United Kingdom as vital members of the Commonwealth;our common determination to defend the values we both cherish and to pursue the goals we share;and the myriad connections between the people of our countries – through which flow admiration and affection, co-operation and opportunity – strengthening and enriching us all.”This is equally true in the relationship between the UK and The Bahamas. We have strong links on diverse issues such as tackling global warming and climate change; shared security and crime prevention; promoting sustainable tourism and transatlantic trade. In recent weeks, the honorable prime minister and senior Cabinet colleagues have traveled to the UK for a variety of meetings and events. This travel is straightforward, thanks in part to the fact that the UK does not require visas for most short trips by Bahamians, as well as the recent increase in UK airlines with both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic offering non-stop flights to Heathrow.
I know the honorable prime minister knows the UK well as he has fought appeals in the Privy Council during his time as a senior lawyer. Several Commonwealth countries with similar legal traditions and practices continue to use the Privy Council as their appeal court where leave to appeal has been granted by a Bahamian or other sovereign courts. The relationship with the Privy Council comes from our deep historical legal connections and is not contingent on having the Queen as head of state.
So far, I have written about the facts of how the UK and The Bahamas relate to each other, but what does this mean for the future? I will restate that this is entirely for The Bahamas, its government and its people to decide. In conversation, many Bahamians tell me that they appreciate the role and service of the Queen as head of state. Some say they would like that to stay the same and some say they would prefer to change. In either circumstance the UK and the Royal Family will continue to be great friends of The Bahamas, wishing them tremendous success in all their endeavours and working closely on a multitude of issues.
• Sarah Dickson is the British high commissioner to The Bahamas. She was appointed in 2019. Dickson has served in the British diplomatic service for more than 20 years. Her previous diplomatic appointment was as Her Majesty’s ambassador to Guatemala and Honduras. She has also served in Spain, Argentina and Yugoslavia.