Kemi Badenoch: ‘UK’s wealth isn’t from white privilege and colonialism’

<span>Kemi Badenoch said the narrative would stunt the country’s future economic success.</span><span>Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA</span>
Kemi Badenoch said the narrative would stunt the country’s future economic success.Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

It would be wrong to attribute the UK’s wealth and economic success to its colonial history or racial privilege, the business and trade minister, Kemi Badenoch, has told an audience in the City.

Addressing financial services bosses at TheCityUK’s international conference in London, the business secretary said the UK’s past exploitation and oppression of other countries and groups of people could not sufficiently explain the country’s economic trajectory.

Badenoch said: “It worries me when I hear people talk about wealth and success in the UK as being down to colonialism or imperialism or white privilege or whatever.”

Related: ‘Hidden in plain sight’: the European city tours of slavery and colonialism

Instead, she said the Glorious Revolution of 1688 – which led to the development of the UK constitution and solidified the role of parliament – should be credited for providing the kind of economic certainty that paved the way for the Industrial Revolution.

Any other interpretation could derail efforts to increase growth at home and abroad, Badenoch said.

“It matters, because if people genuinely believe that the UK only grew and developed into an advanced economy because of exploitation and oppression, then the solutions they will devise will make our growth and productivity problem even worse,” she said.

“It matters in other countries too, because if developing nations do not understand how the west became rich, they cannot follow in his footsteps.

“And it matters when, as your trade secretary, I go to the World Trade Organization conference negotiating on the UK’s behalf, and some of my counterparts spend the entire time in meetings talking about colonialism, blame the west for their economic difficulties, and make demands that would make all of us – not just in this country, but around the world – poorer.”

Her comments come nearly a year after the UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak, refused to apologise for the UK’s role in the slave trade or to commit to paying reparations.

That was despite descendants of some of Britain’s wealthiest enslavers calling on the government to apologise for slavery and begin a programme of reparative justice in light of the “ongoing consequences of this crime against humanity”.

“Its after-effects still harm people’s lives in Britain, as well as in the Caribbean countries where our ancestors made money,” a member of the Heirs of Slavery campaign group said.

A report published by the University of the West Indies last June concluded that the UK alone owed $24tn (£18.8tn) in reparations for transatlantic slavery in 14 countries, including $9.6tn to Jamaica. The report used calculations made by the Brattle Group, which factored in the wealth and GDP amassed by countries that enslaved African people.