Our Government appears willing to live with double standards so wide that all of us should feel ashamed. The decision announced two days ago to deny Chagossians the right to return to their homeland is counter to all that many in our Government claim to stand for, and it is clearly out of kilter with the statement made by David Cameron in 2013. At the time he was angry at remarks made by President Putin who had referred to us as a small Island and said:
“Let me be clear – Britain may be a small island but I would challenge anyone to find a country with a prouder history, a bigger heart or greater resilience, …. For the people who live in Northern Ireland, I should say we are not just an island, we are a collection of islands. I don’t want anyone in Shetland or Orkney to feel left out by this.”
He did not refer in the statement to every island that makes up the United Kingdom and her dependencies. However the meaning was clear, that as a collection of Islands we need to stand together. It was presumably with this in mind that Margaret Thatcher committed British troops and Navy personnel to fight a war against Argentina in the Falkland Islands to defend one of our Islands. Anyone who doubts that the Chagos Islands are part of the UK needs to read this statement made by the Foreign Office two days ago.
“We disagree with Mauritius’ claim that the Chagos archipelago, which the UK administers as the British Indian Ocean Territory, is part of Mauritius. Whilst we do not recognise the Republic of Mauritius’ claim to sovereignty of the archipelago, the UK has repeatedly undertaken to cede it to Mauritius when no longer required”
So the Chagos Islands is part of our territory. Yet between 1967 and 1973 we expelled the entire community of people who lived on the 66 Islands so that the land could be transformed into a military base for the Americans as part of a deal to enable us to buy American weapons at a knock down price. This is in marked contrast to our actions in the South Atlantic a mere 10 years later when instead of stripping a few small islands of their inhabitants to help the USA out, we defended the island home of a few hundred inhabitants to prevent Argentina taking control.
The statement above is only part of what was included two days ago in the Foreign Office announcement. The department is run by Boris Johnson although he was too disinterested to speak on this matter, preferring to allow Baroness Anelay, an unelected Government Minister to speak. Mr Johnson is himself a descendant of an immigrant and this decision flies in the face of all that he said during his campaign to persuade us to vote to leave the European Union. His calls for a return to Sovereignty for our nation and the need for nationals to take controls of their borders contrasts with the situation where the Chagossians were removed from their land against their will and our Government is now refusing their right to return. This is a disturbing rejection of natural justice and leaves these people without a home.
The process has been a long one for the Chagossians, beginning in the year 2000 when the High Court ruled they could return to 65 islands but not to Diego Garcia where the military base is. The decision was nullified four years later by the government, using royal prerogative. Then in 2007, the court overturned that order and rejected the government’s argument that the royal prerogative was immune from scrutiny. However, the following year the government won an appeal, with the House of Lords ruling the exiles could not return. This decision was upheld by the Supreme Court in June 2016. The Government then made its decision as announced by Baroness Anelay following the Supreme Court decision offering a £40m support package over the next decade to help exiled islanders improve their lives.
“The government has decided against resettlement of the Chagossian people to the British Indian Ocean Territory on the grounds of feasibility, defence and security interests, and cost to the British taxpayer,” she told parliament. The difficulties in re-establishing “a small remote community on low-lying islands” and developing modern public services for them were too great, she explained. There would be “limited healthcare and education” and a lack of jobs and economic opportunities. Anelay added: “The government has also considered the interaction of any potential community with the US Naval Support Facility – a vital part of our defence relationship. “The manner in which the Chagossian community was removed from the territory in the 1960s and 1970s, and the way they were treated, was wrong and we look back with deep regret.”
Although we appear to acknowledge that we got things wrong, and frankly £40m in the scheme of weapons systems is a small sum, that has not ended the issue as a further statement made clear:
“The UK is disappointed that Mauritius is seeking a request by the UN general assembly to the international court of justice for an advisory opinion on sovereignty of the British Indian Ocean Territory. The UK believes this is an inappropriate use of the ICJ mechanism and sets an unwelcome precedent for other bilateral disputes.”
I guess most Chagossians would not express themselves as merely ‘disappointed’ with the way they have been treated!