Britain and the Islands
Similarly to its neighbours, St Vincent and the Grenadines has a long history with the UK dating back to the mid-1700’s. Following resistance by the indigenous Carib peoples of the islands, the British, French and Dutch failed on a number of occasions to settle in St Vincent. The main island eventually came under British rule, although it was temporarily taken back by the French in 1779 before being restored to Britain through the Treaty of Versailles in 1783, with some parts of the Grenadine’s remaining under French rule. The Caribs continued their opposition to British rule through a number of subsequent wars, in 1772 to 1773 and again in 1795 to 1796 but were overcome by the British who then took full control of the island.
Whilst under colonial rule, St Vincent became a plantation economy, with many of those enslaved on the islands made to produce sugar, cotton, coffee and cocoa. Following the rise of independence movements, Britain as the colonial power granted St Vincent the status of associated statehood, allowing for internal self-government but external affairs were still controlled by Britain.
After gaining its independence in 1979, St Vincent and the Grenadines became a member of the Commonwealth and remains part of the 54 nation family today. As a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy, Queen Elizabeth II is head of state and Queen of St Vincent and the Grenadines, represented by the Governor-General.
St Vincent’s Westminster style parliamentary democracy is represented by the House of Assembly of St Vincent and the Grenadines. The unicameral legislature has 21 members, fifteen of which are elected and six senators that are appointed by the Governor-General. The House of Assembly represents one of the smaller legislatures of the Commonwealth. As there is no local government, all parts of the islands are administered by central government, with elections held every five years.
Today, the UK and St Vincent enjoy a relationship based on common interests including trade - £19 million worth of trade in goods and services in 2020 - and adaptation to the challenges faced by climate change.
A volcanic island, St Vincent is home to the active La Soufrière volcano. “The deadliest eruption occurred in 1902 when an estimated 1,600 people were killed and much of the island’s agriculture and sugar industry was wiped out. There was a significant eruption in 1979 with a large ash plume reaching as far as Barbados, however an advanced warning issued ahead of the eruption meant there were no casualties.
On 8 April 2021 a red alert was declared and 20,000 Vincentians were issued an evacuation order. The very next day an explosive eruption occurred, followed by subsequent eruptions. Around 20% of the island’s population were displaced, either moving into government shelters or the homes of family and friends in safer parts of the islands.
Beyond St Vincent, the impact of the eruption has also been felt elsewhere in the region, with ash plumes having reached as far as Barbados, Grenada and St Lucia. Experts continue to warn of the risk of further eruptions and although seismic activity is currently low, around 30 explosive events were registered since eruption on 9th April up until 22nd April.