Paying for empire: Jamaica bills the British taxpayer

Jamaica and other Caribbean nations are set to sue Britain for £4 trillion ($6.7 trn) in “unpaid wages” for slaves. Right, let's sue Italy for British slaves taken by Julius Caesar. After all, what did the Romans ever do for us?

What did the Romans ever do for us? Sue them!
Vincent Cooper
On 20 February 2014 13:20

A committee of London-based concerned lawyers is to sue the Italian government for compensation, to be paid to the descendants of British slaves taken by Julius Caesar in 54 BC.

The British descendants of these slaves point out that their lives are now, even in the 21st century, a misery because of Julius Caesar and his Roman imperialism.

“The Romans should never have come to Britain”, said one British slave descendant in Brighton. “All they ever did was to impose their so-called superior Roman culture on us, such as literacy and the Roman alphabet.”

British slave descendants further point out that according to Natural Law Theory, there is no statute of limitations on crimes of imperialism and that compensation must be paid to slave descendants in order for them finally to have closure.

Only joking, of course.

But Jamaica isn’t joking. Jamaica and other Caribbean islands are to sue the British, French and Dutch taxpayers for compensation for black slavery going back hundreds of years.

A coalition of Caribbean states represented by CARICOM, the regional organisation, has even put a figure on what the British, French and Dutch taxpayers owe them -- £4 trillion in unpaid labour, calculated by experts at the University of Birmingham.

And unpaid slave wages are not the only issue. A certain Ms Verene Shepherd, chairman of Jamaica’s slave reparations committee goes further.

Ms Shepherd claims that the former colonists are responsible for the “epidemics of diabetes and hypertension” in the Caribbean. The slaves’ diet, Ms Shepherd claims, was salty and has now led to health problems for Jamaicans and other Caribbean peoples.

Western taxpayers must now foot the Caribbean health bill also. This is not a first for Ms Shepherd. Professor Verene Shepherd (gender studies at the University of the West Indies) has hit the headlines before.

Last year, she complained to the Dutch government of “racial stereotyping” in the Dutch Christmas Santa Claus character of “Black Pete”, one of Santa’s Dutch helpers.

The complaint about “Black Pete” came from Ms Shepherd on a United Nations headed letter. However, as a UN spokesman said, Verene Shepherd is: “…just a consultant who abused the name of the UN to bring their (sic) own agenda to the media. All the hoopla that Shepherd has caused with her letter is nothing more than a bad move in the game of pressure groups in the Netherlands.” (Daily Telegraph)

Well, Verene Shepherd may have lost the argument over Black Pete, but she and others have turned from Santa Claus to the much more serious matter of an unprecedented financial claim against the former colonial powers of the Caribbean.

They have engaged the British law firm Leigh Day, the human rights firm that won taxpayer funded compensation for former Mau Mau Kenyans.

Of course, there is a perverted sense in which the British, French and Dutch taxpayers richly deserve Verene Shepherd and the law firm Leigh Day and their huge compensation demand.

For the last sixty years, Western liberal governments and institutions have been shouting Mea Culpa to the whole wide world. The West, liberals say, is to blame for every wrong that has ever been perpetrated.

British politicians from Tony Blair to William Hague have been going round the world apologising for history -- a classic case of historical anachronism, of reading history backwards by applying modern standards of judgment to past events.  

If Western politicians shout Mea Culpa loud enough, then there will always be a grievance monger and a law firm willing to demand that you put your money where your mouth is and pay up.

And that’s what is happening in this Caribbean slave reparations demand. For years, the liberal West has been putting itself in the dock as the accused, guilty of history’s wrongs.

With the West already in the dock, it’s no surprise to find a victim and a law firm willing to prosecute. That’s why the Caribbean is suing Britain and not suing any Arab state for past wrongs, even though the Arabs were involved in the slave trade long before and long after the West ever got involved.

The Arabs, quite rightly, have not put themselves in the dock. But let’s try to defend ourselves and apply some logic to the Caribbean demand for slave reparations.

The University of Birmingham has calculated a figure of £4 trillion in “unpaid wages” for slaves. But given the standards of the time, money wages would not have bought slaves any more than they received in “board and lodgings”.

So it is nonsense to put a wage price on slave labour. Even many white land labourers were not paid a wage.

Furthermore, in what logical sense does a British taxpayer today owe a Jamaican for a wrong committed to a third party hundreds of years ago? To any reasonable person, there is no moral or financial logic to such a claim.

The belief in government reparations comes from the modern welfarist belief that governments have money to be distributed at no cost. But governments have no money. It is taxpayers’ money.

And no taxpayer today should be obliged to pay a bogus three hundred year old wage bill.  

Also, if past wrongs are a reason for present day compensation, then where does it stop? If British taxpayers are to be responsible for wrongs committed hundreds of years ago, then North African taxpayers are responsible for the thousands of slaves kidnapped from England and Ireland by Barbary pirates in the 17th century.

Cornwall was regularly targeted by Muslim kidnappers. The town of Baltimore in southern Ireland was devastated by Muslim raiders who kidnapped 237 men, women and children and sold them into slavery in Algiers.

What about compensation for the Irish? What about compensation for the Cornish people, whose ancestors were kidnapped and sold into Muslim slavery?

Merely to ask such questions is to see how ahistorical and nonsensical the whole enterprise is. But Western law today is capable of accommodating such nonsense.

Some legal experts say that the Caribbean demand has little chance in law because slavery was a legal institution. There was a time when that would have been a defence; but no longer.

Virtually every legal principle in the West today can be trumped by human rights entitlements.

As Melanie Phillips puts it: “Unlike national laws, which require the courts to interpret the intentions of the parliaments that passed them, human rights law requires the courts to arbitrate between the competing principles of the Human Rights Convention,” (Londonistan, page 68).

Would anyone bet against the Human Rights Convention agreeing with Jamaica against the British taxpayer?

Vincent Cooper is a regular contributor to The Commentator

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