Jamaica's Prime Minister Tells Prince William: 'We're Moving on': 'We Intend to Become an Independent Country'

The couple's Caribbean tour comes as a movement to remove Queen Elizabeth as head of state of Jamaica is gaining traction

Prince William and Kate Middleton were faced with the controversy that has followed them on their tour of the Caribbean during their official meeting with Jamaica's Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, on Wednesday.

During their meeting, Holness directly addressed his country's intention to break away from the British monarchy, referencing the anti-colonial protests that took place amid the couple's arrival in Jamaica on Tuesday and the call for the country to drop William's grandmother Queen Elizabeth as head of state.

"We're very, very happy to have you and we hope you've received a warm welcome of the people," he said.

"Jamaica is a very free and liberal country and the people are very expressive —and I'm certain that you would have seen the spectrum of expressions yesterday," he continued, referencing the couple's warm welcome in Trench Town, which followed a protest calling for slave reparations from the British monarchy in the country's capital.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with the Prime Minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness and his wife Juliet
Kate Middleton, Prince William, Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his wife Juliet Holness. Alamy Stock Photo

"There are issues here, which as you know, are unresolved, but your presence gives us an opportunity for those issues to be placed in context, to be out front and center and to be addressed as best we can. But Jamaica is, as you would see, is a country that is proud of its history and very proud of what we have achieved. And we're moving on and we intend to… fulfill our true ambitions and destiny to become an independent, developed and prosperous country."

The Duke of Cambridge with the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness
Prince William and Prime Minister Andrew Holness. Alamy Stock Photo

Sources tell PEOPLE that William and Kate were aware of the situation and the protests. Any decision about becoming a republic is for the people and government of Jamaica, the sources point out. William is expected to acknowledge the issue of slavery in his speech on Wednesday evening.

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After signing the visitors' book in the lobby, they also met Holness' wife, Juliet Holness, before being presented with an official gift of Appleton Estate Ruby rum, created by the first female master blender in the world Dr. Joy Spence.

At 49, Holness is Jamaica's youngest leader to date. He vowed to turn Jamaica from a constitutional monarchy into a Republic during his election campaign. He was elected to lead the country in 2016 and on taking office, said his government would introduce a bill to replace the Queen with "a non-executive president as head of state."

William and Kate kicked off their eight-day tour of the Caribbean in Belize last weekend. On Thursday, they will head to the Bahamas for the final stop of the tour.

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge arrive for a visit to Shortwood Teacher's College
Kate Middleton. Samir Hussein/WireImage

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Although they have received warm welcomes from many locals, they are also encountering mounting tensions in the Caribbean nations where William's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, remains head of state.

Outside the U.K., the Queen remains head of state in 14 nations around the world (including Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas) — an arrangement that critics say is excruciatingly outdated. "It is important as we turn 60 years old as an independent nation that we stand as 'adults' on solid ethical, moral and human justice grounds," Norah Blake, the co-organizer of a protest in Jamaica, told The Independent, "to say to Britain, who was once our 'parent,' that you have done wrong in enriching yourselves off of chattel slavery and colonialism."

Kate Middleton and Prince William arrive in Jamaica. Chris Jackson/Getty

The protests in Jamaica and earlier in Belize are only the latest evidence of the historic shift underway: Another Caribbean country, Barbados, broke ties with the Queen in November — voting in its first president.

In his speech at the ceremony that saw Barbados become a republic, Prince Charles recognized the "appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history," even as his presence there was criticized by some local leaders. Blake said both an apology for such atrocities and reparations are essential to moving forward: "Today we are setting the conversation of our future generations, for them to have something to build a brighter future."

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