Tory MP from slave-owning family set to gain £3m from sale of former plantation

Last Updated: June 20, 2024By

A Controversial Deal: Drax Hall Plantation

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The brouhaha surrounding the Conservative MP for his forefathers’ involvement in Caribbean slavery has taken an unexpected turn with the Barbados government considering a hefty payout.

Despite prior rumblings of making Richard Drax fork over reparations and taking over his family’s plantation – which, according to some historian, was nothing short of a “slaughterhouse” for enslaved Africans – the government now seems poised to shell out a pretty penny for approximately 21 hectares (that’s about 30 football fields) of his turf to erect some housing.

This move has stirred up a hornet’s nest among many Barbadians, particularly those who claim that the Drax clan had a hand in shaping the despicable slavery-based sugar industry and the draconian Barbados slave code back in the 17th century. This code stripped Black Africans of their most basic rights, including the right to exist.

Critics have lambasted this proposed deal as a downright “outrage” and insisted that this is one plantation where the government ought not to be opening its wallet.

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Trevor Prescod, MP and bigwig of the Barbados National Taskforce on Reparations, lamented, “What a lousy example this sets. Reparations and Drax Hall are making waves internationally. How do we justify this to the rest of the world? The government shouldn’t be cozying up to Richard Drax for any sort of deal, especially when we’re still haggling over reparations.”

In a bombshell revelation back in December 2020, it came to light that Drax had quietly assumed control of the sprawling 250-hectare plantation following his father’s demise in 2017, a tidbit he conveniently left off the register of interests for UK MPs. Though he eventually disclosed his newfound estate, he maintained that the registrar had given him the nod, stating he wasn’t obliged to spill the beans until probate wrapped up.

Drax, who ranks high on the list of loaded MPs, boasts a net worth north of £150m.

An image of a monument commemorating emancipation in Barbados, where calls for reparations still echo, underscores the gravity of the situation. According to historian Prof Sir Hilary Beckles, Drax Hall is nothing short of a “crime scene,” where tens of thousands of Africans met their demise in abhorrent conditions. The Drax clan also had their fingers in the pie of a slave plantation in Jamaica, which they offloaded in the 18th century, not to mention at least two ships that ferried enslaved Africans to the Caribbean.

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In 2022, word got out that Drax, the MP representing South Dorset, jetted off to Barbados for a tête-à-tête with Prime Minister Mia Mottley. Word on the street was he was given an ultimatum: hand over the keys to Drax Hall plantation, lock, stock, and barrel, or brace for a legal showdown. Mottley’s mouthpiece was quick to stress that the current land deal had zilch to do with reparations and that the government was merely following its routine land acquisition playbook.

Mottley has pledged to tackle the island’s housing crunch head-on by erecting 10,000 new digs to satiate the demand, which currently boasts a whopping 20,000 applications. A top-notch property appraiser reckons that agricultural land ripe for housing development could fetch a cool Bds$150,000 (£60,000) per acre. At this rate, the 21 hectares could line Drax’s coffers with Bds$8m (£3.2m). The plan is to erect 500 abodes for low- and middle-income families, all up for grabs.

Barbados housing honcho Dwight Sutherland, whose turf encompasses Drax Hall, was quick to clarify, “This is strictly business at market rates. We’re compensating landowners, plain and simple. Sure, this patch belongs to Mr. Drax, but it’s got diddly-squat to do with reparations. It’s all about putting roofs over people’s heads.”

He added that similar tracts of land in other areas were also earmarked for housing. “This is about providing homes for regular folks. The folks in St. George parish need roofs over their heads as much as they need reparations.”

Esther Phillips, Barbados’ poet laureate, who grew up a stone’s throw from Drax Hall, minced no words, labeling the proposed deal a “travesty” and a case of the descendants of the enslaved lining the pockets of the descendants of the oppressors. “He should be handing over this land as reparations, not fattening his wallet…on the backs of Barbadians. As Barbadians, we need to stand up against this.”

Prescod chimed in, “Slavery was a crime against humanity. This is one plantation where the government shouldn’t be opening its purse strings. We’re pushing for reparations for the wrongs committed by the oppressors. Drax Hall is Exhibit A, not just for Barbados but for the entire Caribbean.”

Richard Drax, for his part, declined to throw in his two cents. In the past, he’s expressed regret over his ancestors’ dalliance in the slave trade, but has been quick to deflect blame, insisting that no one today should bear the brunt of sins committed centuries ago.

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