In a surprise move, Jamaica’s prime minister says the island will seek independence by hosting the royal couple

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness told Prince William and Kate on Wednesday that the British Commonwealth nation intends to become independent in an unexpected announcement that comes as other countries consider cutting ties with the monarchy.

Holness also noted there were “unresolved” issues as he greeted Prince William and Kate in front of a media scrum.

“We are moving forward,” he said. “We intend to … achieve our true ambitions and our destiny as an independent, developed and prosperous country.”

The former British colony would become just the second Caribbean island to sever ties with Queen Elizabeth in recent years, with Barbados doing so in November.

The royal couple, who flanked Holness on either side when he made the announcement, did not immediately react except for a few brief nods.

Kingston protesters demand an apology and reparations for slavery on Tuesday as Prince William and Kate arrived in Jamaica. The two-day visit is part of a larger trip to the Caribbean region as some countries debate severing ties with the monarchy, as Barbados did late last year. (Collin Reid/Associated Press)

The announcement surprised many on the island of nearly three million people and sparked a flurry of text messages and phone calls.

“I didn’t know the prime minister was going to say what he said today. I think it’s a very important step forward,” said Carla Gullotta, director of Stand up for Jamaica, a grassroots organization. human rights nonprofit that joined dozens of other groups and leaders in signing a recently published letter demanding an apology and reparations for slavery from Britain.

She told The Associated Press that her phone started ringing just minutes after Holness’s announcement.

It comes a day after Gullotta and others joined a protest held hours before the royal couple arrived in Jamaica on Tuesday as part of a week-long tour of Central America and the Caribbean. The trip, organized at the Queen’s request, coincides with the 70th anniversary of her coronation.

“This visit has brought to light the fact that many Jamaicans are looking forward to Jamaica becoming a fully independent republic,” she said, adding that the island has every opportunity and potential to do so.

However, Gullotta noted that many are concerned about continued government corruption, which has eroded people’s trust. “If you don’t trust those who run the country, it will be difficult for people to take a stand,” she said.

Veteran lawmaker Mike Henry also told the AP he was concerned that demands for slavery apologies and reparations would be pursued if Jamaica opted to become independent.

Meanwhile, Gullotta said she does not support check reparations, which she called “ridiculous”. Instead, she said, Jamaicans should be compensated through other means, including scholarships and access to health care.

“What was not offered in the past should be offered now,” she said.

Britain ruled Jamaica for over 300 years, forcing hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans to work the land in brutal conditions. Jamaica gained independence in August 1962, but remained in the British Commonwealth.