LONDON — As Caribbean nations debate their relationship with the British crown, Prince William says he will support and respect whatever decision the people make.
William, second in line to the throne, made the comments after an eight-day tour of Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas during which he and wife Kate were celebrated but also criticized as being “tone deaf” for perpetuating images of Britain’s colonial rule.
Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness told the royals his country intended to become a republic, removing the British monarch as its head of state.
“I know that this tour has brought into even sharper focus questions about the past and the future,” William said in a statement reflecting the end of their tour on Saturday. “In Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas, that future is for the people to decide upon.”
The young royals visited the three nations as representatives of Queen Elizabeth II, who celebrates the 70th anniversary of her reign this year. During those seven decades she has been the head of state for the United Kingdom and 14 “realms” that were once colonies of the British Empire and are now independent countries.
The royal couple was greeted by protesters demanding an apology for the role Britain played in the enslavement of millions of Africans and reparations for the damage caused by slavery. During a speech in Jamaica, William expressed his “profound sorrow” for slavery but stopped short of offering an apology.
William recognized the changing nature of the connections between Britain and its former colonies during a speech Friday night in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas.
“We support with pride and respect your decisions about your future,” William said. “Relationships evolve. Friendship endures.”
Whatever the former colonies decide about their continuing relationship with the crown, William said he wanted to continue serving them through the Commonwealth, a voluntary association of 54 countries with historical links to Britain. The queen has been head of the Commonwealth throughout her reign and Prince Charles, William’s father, is her designated successor.
William recognized that he may not follow in their footsteps.
“Who the Commonwealth chooses to lead its family in the future isn’t what is on my mind,” he said. “What matters to us is the potential the Commonwealth family has to create a better future for the people who form it, and our commitment to serve and support as best we can.”