Henry Smith on Chagossian return and Magna Carta

henry smithThe recently re-elected Conservative MP for Crawley Henry Smith has made the first mention of Chagossians fight for justice in this Parliament. Speaking in a debate on the Britain in the World section of the Queen’s Speech debate, Mr Smith praises the Government’s commitment to existing British Overseas Territories and calls for the Government to “start to put right” the wrongs of Chagossians forced deportation and neglect in exile.

Noting the upcoming 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, he adds that “article 39 [of the Magna Carta] states no person shall be exiled without due process. I fear though this is what happened to the British citizens of the Chagos Islands.”

 

You can read Mr Smith’s full speech below, or online via theyworkforyou.com

 

Henry Smith, MP for Crawley, speaking at 8:19pm 1st June in the House of Commons

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) for focusing on

the importance of the Commonwealth and the British overseas territories. It is very pleasing

to see the flags of the British overseas territories flying in Parliament Square today and I am

very proud to have been part of a Conservative-led Government in the last Parliament that put

the overseas territories at the forefront of our policy. The Government will, I hope, continue

to do so, whether that means ensuring that the people of Gibraltar or the Falkland Islands who

wish to remain British have that right defended, or investing in infrastructure such as the new

airstrip on St Helena.

This evening, I want to address some unfinished business with the overseas territories—that

is, the future of the British Indian Ocean Territory. About a decade ago, many Chagos

islanders came to Gatwick airport in the Crawley constituency and, I am pleased to say,

settled in Crawley. Crawley now has the largest Chagossian community anywhere in the

world. As the House will know, the Chagos islanders, British citizens, were exiled from their

homeland in 1968 by Orders in Council and by royal prerogative. The decision did not come

through Parliament. A great injustice was done at that time. Of course, we cannot turn back

time but we can start to right those wrongs.

I am delighted that the last Government initiated a feasibility study into the resettlement of

the British Indian Ocean Territory and I call on the Government to implement that study.

There are a number of pilots for the possibility of the Chagos islanders returning. The Chagos

islanders were removed from Diego Garcia and some of the outer islands, such as Salomon

and Peros Banhos, to make way for a US airbase. That airbase is and has been important for the security

of the democratic western world, both in the Soviet era and today with uncertainty in the

middle east, but that should not preclude those islanders being able to return to their

homeland should they so wish.

I am struck by the fact that in a fortnight’s time we will celebrate the 800th anniversary of the

signing of Magna Carta just a few miles upstream along the Thames. Article 39 states that no

person should be imprisoned or exiled without due process, yet I fear that that is what has

happened to the British citizens of the Chagos islands. Much has been said about why they

should not be able to return, including much about the environmental reasons, and on the

22nd of this month the Supreme Court will determine a case on their right of return. I do not

see any issue, however, with allowing subsistence living by a modest number of Chagos

islanders back on Diego Garcia and some of the outer islands if possible. I am pleased that

my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is in the Chamber

because I believe that we can use some of that budget to facilitate the return of the Chagos

islanders.

In this 800th year of Magna Carta I hope that the Government’s feasibility study on the right

of return to the Chagos islands can finally be implemented so we can right a wrong of almost

half a century.

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