Labour

Jermey Corbyn Interview on UK's "disgraceful" treatment of Chagossians

Posted in APPG, coverage, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour on June 4th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

Just before the election we completed an in-depth interview with Jeremy Corbyn MP, the Chair of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group since its creation in 2008.  Jeremy has long been been a strident campaigner for the rights of the Chagossian people.

Jeremy Corbyn on “lies and deception” that surrounded Chagossian expulsion from their homeland

“Deportation forced Chagossians into a marginalised existence”

 

We’ve a full 20 minute plus interview to come with the Labour leadership candidate but in the meantime enjoy these further taster clips

 

Jeremy Corbyn on his hopes for the future

“For me what’s really important is that right to go back”

 

On working with Chagossians in the fight for justice over the last decade

You feel, at last the British Establishment, for all its arrogance will finally have to face up to what it did to these people who it thought were expendable. All the racist comments, branding them “Man Fridays,” all these things eventually come home to roost.

 

On Government claims Chagossians received “generous compensation”

You take away someone’s right to live and way of living, you can’t just ‘buy it out’ of them”

The 2015 Election: What impact for Chagossians?

Posted in APPG, Conservative, Election 2015, Labour, Parliament, SDLP, SNP on May 17th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

electionWhat does the election mean for the Chagossian fight for justice?

In the many hours of media reaction to the recent UK election, this is probably not a question you have heard answered, or even asked.

The fight for Chagossian justice is of course beyond narrow party politics. It is a simple question of right and wrong which any Parliamentarian from UKIP to Green, DUP to Plaid Cymru, should be able to see requires immediate resolution. Remember to write to your newly elected or re-elected MP asking them to do so.

UK Chagos Support Association does not have any party political allegiance. We will work with anyone to finally see justice done and a stain on the nation’s character removed.

With a decision on return due in the near future, however, it is important who is Parliament to fight for justice, and indeed who will be making the decisions. So let’s see how things are shaping up.

Returned Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

Returned Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

Foreign Office Ministers

There haven’t been many changes in the Foreign Office, which will make a final decision on whether to support Chagossian return. Even prior to the election, the Foreign Office was entirely populated by Conservative Party Ministers.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond remains in his post, as does the Junior Minister with responsibility for Overseas Territories (including the Chagos Islands) James Duddridge MP. Hugo Swire MP, who has also dealt with Chagos related issues in Parliament, also retains his role in the Foreign Office.

With no changes in personnel, there can be no excuse for any delay on delivering a positive decision on return in the very near future.

The currently annouced candidates for the Labour leadership in their first hustings

The currently annouced candidates for the Labour leadership in their first hustings

Shadow Foreign Office Ministers

With the Labour Party about to conduct a leadership election, their Shadow Cabinet is subject to change in the immediate future.

Previous Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander lost his seat at the election. Under Acting Party Leader Harriet Harman, Mr Alexander has been replaced by Hiliary Benn. Mr Benn has made no public comment on the Chagossian situation that we are aware of, although as a former Department for International Development Minister he has extensive experience supporting projects in Overseas Territories.

It is also worth remembering Ms Harman, in a letter to one of our supporters shortly prior to the election, struck a positive note about the potential to resolve the decades of injustice suffered by Chagossians. We hope she can use her time as head of Her Majesty’s Opposition to ensure the UK finally lives up to its legal and moral obligations to the Chagossian people. Labour Party supporters might even consider asking the various candidates what they would do to deliver justice.

SNP Annual ConferenceOther Parties and the Chagossian Cause

One of the big stories of the election was the rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP), with the party gaining almost 50 seats and becoming the third largest party in Parliament. At their last conference, the SNP pledged to act to support Chagossian return, so we are look forward to working with them to make this a reality.

The new SNP spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, high-profile former leader Alex Salmond, has spoken eloquently in Parliament previously about the injustices suffered across decades by Chagossians. We certainly hope in this new role he can finally give the Chagossian cause the national attention it deserves.

The other parties which have formally offered support to the Chagossian cause-the Green Party and the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) have retained their MPs (one and three respectively).

portThe All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands

Thankfully the Chagossian cause has supporters across all political parties in Westminster. Since 2008 some of the most strident advocates for justice have worked in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands.

Most members of the Group retained their seats in the election. Liberal Democrat Andrew George, the group’s Treasurer and Secretary, was not however returned to Parliament. Nor was former Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz who was a member of the group. We thank both for their years of support for the Chagossian cause.

The APPG is likely to formally meet for the first time in early June. If any MPs are interested in joining they can contact voluntary Group Coordinator David Snoxell at drsnoxell@gmail.com.

On any other issues MPs are welcome to contact ourselves for further information on how they can help make history in the next Parliament by delivering Chagossian justice.

SNP confirm their support for Chagossian return home

Posted in Labour, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, SNP, Uncategorized on March 31st, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

SNP Annual ConferenceFollowing our report on positive political backing for the Chagossian people in the last week, we have received confirmation that at the recent SNP conference the party backed a motion calling on the UK Government to “end the unacceptable delay in implementing the Chagossians right to return home to their islands.”

We wholly welcome the party’s formal support for the Chagossian people. The full text of the motion, approved unanimously by SNP delegates, can be read below.

 

The SNP Motion Backing Chagossian Return

Conference notes the Award dated 18 March 2015 in the matter of Chagos Marine Protected Area Arbitration (Mauritius v United Kingdom), and notes the Chagos Archipelago is administered by the United Kingdom as the ‘British Indian Ocean Territory’.

Conference further notes the written statement made in the UK Parliament on 24 March 2015 by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office announcing delay until after the General Election on a decision about resettlement of the Chagos Islands.

Conference expresses frustration with the ongoing approach of the UK Government in relation to the Chagossian people, and notes that the behaviour of the UK Government has consistently been contrary to well established laws on decolonization and self-determination.

Conference calls upon the UK Government to end the unacceptable delay in implementing the Chagossians right to return home to their islands.

 

We have SNP National Council member William Henderson to thank for propsoing the motion, which was seconded by Julie Hepburn, an elected member of the National Executive Committee.

We should also thank the many Scottish activists who have picked up the Chagossian cause and helped us raise awareness on social media. Their vocal and pro-active backing no doubt contributed to the issue grabbing the party’s interest.

With the SNP expected to gain a number of seats in the next election (polls indicate they could win 50 seats) this could a major development in the fight for Chagossian freedom. We look forward to working with the party to win Chagossians’ right to return home.

Although to our knowledge this is the first time the SNP have offered their formal support to the Chagossian people’s fight for justice, their former leader Alex Salmond has taken an interest in the cause previously.

In 2004 Mr Salmond accused the then Government of behaving in a “sneaky” and “under-hand” manner, and being “morally homeless.” This related to the then Government’s use of Orders-in-Council, essentially Royal Prerogative, to effectively nullify a High Court ruling which permitted Chagossians to return home.

 

Political Backing for Chagos Justice: Positvie Comments from Labour, SNP & SDLP

Posted in Campaign, Election 2015, Labour, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, SDLP, SNP on March 29th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

mlk hopeAs if to prove the truth of Dr King’s quote (pictured right), the disappointment of the Government’s failure to deliver a decison on Chagossian return last week has been followed by much more hopeful political developments this week. Read new comments and commitments below from Labour, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) and the Northern Irish Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).

Labour

A supporter has forwarded us an email from Shadow Deputy Prime Minister and Labour Party Chairperson Harriet Harman regarding deported Chagossians’ right to return home.

Harriet Harman addressing the Labour Party Conference

Harriet Harman addressing the Labour Party Conference

Labour Shadow Ministers have been by and large publicly silent on the issue since a 2013 House of Lords debate. Approaches to the relevant Shadow Ministers from ourselves have not received a response.

In an email dated the 27th March, however, Labour’s deputy leader states that:

 

“The recent feasibility of return report and UN ruling on the Marine Protected Area (MPA) offer a real opportunity for the Government to resolve this issue, and I await their decision which they promised would be made in this Parliament, which will hopefully allow the historical wrong of the expulsion of the islanders from those islands finally to be put right. ” ( Harriet Harman, Deputy Labour Party Leader and Shadow Deputy Prime Minister)

 

 

We agree, and commend the (somewhat belated) recognition that this is an excellent opportunity to deliver justice for Chagossians. Although the statement stops short of support of resettlement, we are glad Ms Harman acknowledges more needs to be done “put right” the “wrong” of Chagossians’ forced expulsion.

Labour could well form the next Government and if they do support for Chagossian return must be a priority. We encourage Labour to make formal commitments to the Chagossian people before the election.

The SNP

Delegates at the conference voted to support Chagossians

Delegates at the conference voted to support Chagossians

Elsewhere, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) passed a motion at their conference this week pledging support the Chagossian people’s fight for justice. We are trying to get hold of the exact text of the motion at the moment but we welcome the formal support of a party which has provided strong advocacy in the past.

As the motion passed, supporting the Chagossian calls for justice is now official SNP policy. With the party expected to win a high number of seats in the upcoming elections (polls have suggested anywhere between 40 and 50+ in the last few months), their support could be highly valuable in the next Parliament. We will reserve further comment until we have the full text of the motion.

 

The SDLP

And the backing kept coming! The Northern Irish Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) also confirmed their support for Chagossian right to return home this week. The confirmation was prompted by our hopeful but thankfully successful contribution to a Twitter Q&A with their Foreign Affairs and International Development Spokesperson Mark Durkan, which can be seen below.

Mark Durkan speaking in Parliament

Mark Durkan speaking in Parliament

The SDLP currently hold three seats in the House of Commons (they only stand in Northern Ireland). Mr Durkan has a strong record backing human rights causes during his time in Parliament and he and his party’s support could be highly valuable to Chagossians in the next Parliament.  

The Green Party

In the interests of fairness, we should point Mr Durkan was following the footsteps of Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett, who confirmed her party’s ongoing support for the Chagossian people last summer following our Twitter haranguing.

The run up to the election is the perfectly opportunity to get those politicians seeking your support to commit to backing the Chagossian people’s right to return as a matter of urgency. Next time you see a politician, don’t forget to mention Chagos!  

Jeremy Corbyn demands Chagossian return decison in Parliament

Posted in Jeremy Corbyn, Labour, Parliament, resettlement, William Hague on March 5th, 2015 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn has pushed Leader of the House, and former Foreign Secretary, William Hague to ensure a decision on Chagossian return to their homeland is made before the election. You can read the exchange in full below.corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn:The Leader of the House is well aware that a number of colleagues have raised the issue of the Chagos Islands many times during business questions. When he was Foreign Secretary, he commissioned the KPMG report on the feasibility of right of return. We are waiting for a statement to be made to the House so that Ministers can be questioned and the issue debated. It was promised that the issue would be resolved before the end of this Parliament, but we have only a short time to go.

William Hague: This is an important report on an important issue and the hon. Gentleman and I have often discussed it. Indeed, as Foreign Secretary I set up the new feasibility study. A very extensive and detailed report has now been produced, and my ministerial colleagues in the Foreign Office are considering it in detail. It will also need to be considered across the whole of Government. I am sure it is better to look at it in great detail than to rush to decisions about it, so I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a timetable for any announcement, but I will tell my colleagues that he is asking about it and that there is interest in it in Parliament. We will consider it within Government as rapidly as possible.

Parliament will close down prior to the election at the end of March. In effect then there are only three weeks in which to have a debate and for the Government to make a decision. Mr Hague does claim the decision will be made “rapidly” but states he can not provide a “timetable.”

Failure to make a decision prior to the election, or a failure to have a debate in Parliament on the decision, would be yet another broken promise to the Chagossian people from the UK Government.

John Prescott: Return "a small price to pay for the injustice we dealt Chagossians"

Posted in Ben Fogle, Campaign, coverage, Diego Garcia, Feasability Study, Labour, Lord Prescott on February 15th, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Ex Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has made a powerful intervention in the campaign to grant Chagossians the right to return to their homeland. Writing in the The Mirror, he notes with the 50 year UK-US agreement on US military use of Diego Garcia coming to an end in prescott2016. now is the perfect time to grant Chagossians the opportunity to return home. As we have consistently argued, any renewal of the agreement must include US support for Chagossian resettlement.

As Lord Prescott notes, the UK received an £11 million discount on Polaris nuclear weapons in exchange for deporting the Chagossians in the original UK-US deal. Adjusted for inflation, this would be worth £200 million today. This would be more than enough to pay for resettlement of the islands.

On costs, Lord Prescott makes the very reasonable point that KPMG estimates, which begin at £60 million over three years, are “a small price to pay for the injustice we dealt Chagossians.” That these cost estimates are thought overly high by a range of experts only makes any opposition to return even more unreasonable.

The ‘cost’ of Chagossian return, to say nothing about the UK’s moral obligation, is also interestingly compared with the cost of maintaining the Falkland Islands. Resettlement of the Chagos Islands could be accomplished for less than the UK spends on the Falkland Islands in one year. The UK has obligations to all its Overseas Territories.

Speculating why the Government has been so keen to support the Falkland Islanders and so opposed to Chagossian return, Lord Prescott notes that the former are “white.” Considering the history of Chagossians’ deportation, in which they were dismissed as “Tarzans” and “Man Fridays” by UK and US Government officials, and only this were week referred to as “so-called Chagossians” in a Telegraph article, this is not an unreasonable conclusion.

The work of Ben Fogle, one of our Patron’s and a veteran Chagossian campaigner, is also acknowledged in the Daily Mirror piece.

We are glad to have the committed support of Lord Prescott, Ben Fogle and a growing list of people who recognise there is no longer a sensible argument for denying Chagossians justice and the right to return. Add your voice by signing the petition

Chagos Islands: The ‘point of return’ beckons for Chagosians

Posted in APPG, Ben Fogle, Benjamin Zephaniah, CCT, CRG, Diego Garcia, EU, FCO, Feasability Study, Labour, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, Philippa Gregory, Phillip Hammond, resettlement, UN, USA, William Hague on February 9th, 2015 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

chagos

 

Over four decades ago, citizens of the picturesque Indian Ocean archipelago of Chagos were tricked or forcibly removed from their land by the UK to make way for a US military base following a secret deal between the two countries. The suffering of the forcibly exiled Chagossians, and their fight to return home is well documented. Now a new report brings hope their ordeal could soon be over. Dr Sean Carey finds out how.

Disappointment at Appeal Court verdict on Chagos marine reserve

Posted in ConDem, conservation, FCO, Labour, MPA, resettlement, Wikileaks on May 26th, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

The Court of Appeal has upheld the High Court’s ruling that the Chagos marine reserve imposed by Gordon Brown’s government in 2010 was lawful.
Judges considered cables revealed by Wikileaks, which suggested the Foreign Office hoped the Chagos marine reserve would prevent the islanders from returning home.
The Chagos Refugees Group has made the following statement:

Chagossians welcome the important decision of the Court of Appeal that the Wikileaks cable, in which the Commissioner for British Indian Ocean Territory revealed the true purpose of David Miliband’s Marine Protected Area around the Chagos islands to be to prevent resettlement by us of our islands should have been admitted in evidence. It clearly showed that the UK was presenting the MPA to the USA as a means of preventing us from resettling our ancestral homeland. We condemn the last British government for the underhand way in which our dignity as an uprooted people has been further insulted. What we do not understand is that, having wrongly excluded this important evidence from the Court, it has now been decided that this exclusion “makes no difference” to the issue of this improper purpose. It seems that the whole world now knows what was said between officials in secret, but the Courts are alone in disregarding the clear message of deception which it reveals.
It should be recalled that the history of our exile is marked by serious acts of deception practised in order to disguise what is a clear breach of our rights of self determination. This history includes:

1. The deception of the UN in 1965, when the Colonial Office misrepresented our people as a transient population, despite their duty to help us towards self- determination, in order to evade fundamental rights and secretly deport our people into exile.

2. The secret documents that required us to surrender our right of return, which were not explained or translated to us, when small amounts of compensation were paid in 1982.

3. The now revealed interference by officials with the feasibility Study in 2000-2002 which Robin Cook promised as a means of providing for our return.

4. The secret abolition of our Right of Return, by Jack Straw, in 2004, when the false conclusions of the feasibility study were used to justify this attack on our identity as an island people. Chagossians will never give up our fundamental right to return to our homeland. We welcome the decision of the coalition government to make a second study of the Return of the population, provided that this is a sincere effort to achieve real resettlement. We deplore the last Government’s tricks to cheat us of our return, after the High Court declared our exile to be illegal in 2000.

Is the tide turning in Chagos?

Posted in APPG, Commonwealth, ConDem, conservation, CRG, Diego Garcia, FCO, Labour, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, resettlement, Uncategorized, USA, William Hague on November 2nd, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – 1 Comment

David Snoxell, former British High Commissioner to Mauritius and Co-ordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group, gave a presentation at the Chagos Refugees Group International Conference (Mauritius, 29-31 Oct, 2013). The presentation was entitled Options for resolving the issues concerning the future of the Chagossians and of the Chagos Islands. Is the tide turning in Chagos? He began by congratulating the CRG and its Leader, Olivier Bancoult, on its 30 years of struggle for their noble cause which is to empower Chagossians to return to their homeland.

He then reviewed UK government policy since the 2000 High Court judgment in favour of the Chagossians, which was subsequently overturned by means of an ancient device, known as Privy Council Orders, bypassing Parliament. David Snoxell highlighted the influence of Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials on government policy and how bad policy has been compounded, while pointing to the expertise and continuity available from the Chagos APPG and welcoming the policy review on resettlement of the Chagos Islands:

….it is necessary to understand that it is FCO officials who explain and present the issues and recommend to Ministers the policy to be adopted. Unless it is a major international issue, going to the heart of Britain’s essential interests, Ministers generally accept what officials recommend. No Minister is able to take the time to get to grips with complex issues, such as Chagos, when there are international crises raging overhead as there have so often been in recent times. So in effect it is officials who make the policy but they like Ministers come and go with some frequency. FCO officials usually want “quick wins”, easy solutions and a straight run in office. In 2004 resettlement was seen as a long drawn out and difficult process, too complicated for the two officials (5 today) who were responsible for BIOT. Banning resettlement altogether seemed the easiest option.

Now it is very difficult for officials and their legal advisers to admit that they or their predecessors made the wrong decision. So they are obliged to defend the entrenched positions of the past with the same formulae and arguments they have inherited, without examining whether those arguments were or remain valid. The result is bureaucratic inertia and becoming victims of their own propaganda. Thus the policy stays frozen in time and officials defend it to the hilt against pressure from Parliament or any other source. Ministers are too busy and lack the expertise to challenge these entrenched positions, often bolstered by legal advice – the current Minister responsible for BIOT is the 9th since 2000. This is where an APPG can be of much help to a beleaguered Minister, challenging the accepted mantras of the past.

It is important to consider the four standard arguments deployed since 2004 by FCO against resettlement:

1. The islands are set aside for defence purposes and in any case the US would not agree. But I have never seen a convincing explanation as to why resettlement of UK nationals, on the Outer Islands would pose a threat to military operations or to the security of the base on DG 130 miles away, or indeed to resettlement on DG itself. The Outer Islands are clearly not required for defence since over the last 48 years no defence facilities have ever been built there. It is unlikely that if the British Government informed the US Administration that it planned to go ahead with a resettlement on the Outer Islands the US would disagree. They might, however, take a little more convincing if the settlement was to be on DG, in close proximity to the base, but this too is not impossible.

2. The 2002 Feasibility Study concluded that resettlement was not feasible due to rising sea levels, increased storminess leading to flooding and erosion of the islands, the potential damage to marine life and corals and the lack of sustainable employment. But the FCO now accepts, 11 years later, that following years of critical analysis of the 2002 study by experts, a new feasibility study is required and by implication that the old one was flawed. We await an announcement soon of the draft ToRs of the proposed study and progress on the Policy Review.

3. Then comes the cost argument, often much exaggerated, but the UK is a wealthy nation that has no trouble finding the resources for overseas defence operations and there are other sources – the US, EU, Commonwealth, International Community and NGOs.

4. Human habitation is not compatible with the conservation of the unique bio-diversity and marine environment of the Islands. This argument of course ignores the fact that up to 4000 military personnel live on DG. But it is a powerful argument which appeals to some zealous members of conservation NGOs. The political influence, resources and reach of these groups should, however, not be underestimated. They have had a symbiotic relationship with the FCO which has used the NGOs to bolster their policy against resettlement and in turn has been used by them to maintain uninhabited the Outer Islands; scientists, environmentalists and conservationists of course excepted. The somewhat misleading campaign to create the MPA, waged by Pew and CEN in public and in private in 2009/10, was a manifestation of this relationship.

But I would now like to focus on the future rather than dwell on past mistakes. Clearly, after more than a decade of intransigence, the FCO needs a thorough and objective review of all its policies towards Chagos. And here I pay tribute to today’s FCO for recognising this. The Policy Review announced ten months ago by the Foreign Secretary on 20 December 2012 was a belated but welcome step forward. I believe that it is a genuine attempt to be open, objective and fair. In a debate in the Lords on 17 October the FCO Minister, Baroness Warsi said:

“On 18 December 2012 the Foreign Secretary said that he was going to review policy towards the resettlement of the British Indian Ocean Territory. This review has been under way since then and we have been in touch with all those with an interest, especially the Chagossian community here in the UK, in Mauritius and in the Seychelles. Ministers have agreed that we should have an independent study that will, with as much transparency as possible, properly explore what might be possible, what is realistic and what it would cost. I am sure that I will report back to the House when that is concluded.”

I do feel that current officials and their Ministers want to bring about a fair resolution of the issues in consultation with Chagossians and Mauritius. I am hopeful that it will be the breaking of the logjam and that it will lead to four principle results:

1. The Feasibility Study concludes that resettlement is feasible, can be done economically and will not endanger the marine environment.

2. The FCO accepts the findings, makes resettlement a condition of the renewal of the 1966 Anglo-American Agreement to include a financial contribution from the US; seeks funding from other sources (if necessary), resolves to start planning at least an experimental resettlement immediately, with a view to the first settlers returning in 2015, the 50th anniversary of the creation of BIOT.

3. Given the UK’s oft repeated commitment that when no longer needed for defence purposes sovereignty will revert to Mauritius, the British Government proposes to Mauritius the start of fresh talks on the future of BIOT, to cover arrangements for Mauritian participation in the management of the Islands and the MPA, leading to a timetable for either joint sovereignty or a gradual ceding of sovereignty which may or may not include DG.

4. All of this to be announced by end 2014, well before the general election in May 2015 and the CHOGM in Mauritius in Oct 2015 to bring the UK into conformity with the Commonwealth Charter, signed by The Queen and Member States in March.

I would also expect conservation organisations in the UK and Mauritius to start to work with Chagossians who wish to return by providing marine skills, training and education in conservation. Proper management of the MPA, especially if a scientific station were established, would result in the creation of jobs such as servicing visiting scientists, maintaining boats and equipment and patrolling the islands.

Having a Policy Review is a sea change in FCO thinking. The results will be seen as a political and moral test of the UK’s fundamental values. As the Foreign Secretary has said “It is not in our character as a nation to have a foreign policy without a conscience; neither is it in our interests”. If next year the Feasibility Study reports that resettlement is practical, as we know it is, I cannot imagine that the British Government will not make it possible. The vital thing is to ensure that the Feasibility Study, coming 12 years after the last, is this time truly independent, transparent and objective and takes account of the much more detailed scientific data now available. So to answer my question I believe the tide is turning.

David Snoxell

Coordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group

29 Oct 2013

 

David Miliband ignored official advice on MPA timing

Posted in APPG, Diego Garcia, ECHR, FCO, ITLOS, Labour, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, USA, Wikileaks on June 21st, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

In an article for the Mauritius Times (No. 3124), David Snoxell, coordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group, reviews the outcome of the judicial review of the Chagos Marine Protected Area (MPA) and the way in which the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, rushed through the declaration of a no-take MPA against official advice:

The documents released for the judicial review provide fascinating insights into the advice being submitted to the Foreign Secretary, leading up to the announcement of the MPA on 1 April 2010. Officials cautioned that the results of the public consultation should be announced but not rushed, pending careful “management” of the Chagossians and Mauritius. “There was further work to do with stakeholders before establishing an MPA.” Officials warned that “Our best defence against the legal challenges which are likely to be forthcoming is to demonstrate a conscientious and careful decision making process. A rapid decision now would undermine that… We would expect to recommend a phased introduction of a no-take MPA which would give time to put a sustainable funding package in place.”

Within hours David Miliband brushed aside official advice and decided on an immediate designation of a full ‘no-take’ MPA. On 31 March senior officials made last ditch attempts to head the Foreign Secretary off. One noted, “I think this approach risks deciding (and being seen to decide) policy on the hoof for political timetabling reasons rather than on the basis of expert advice and public consultation. That’s a very different approach to the one we recommended yesterday… to be developed over time with the involvement of many stakeholders and to be based on science as well as politics.” That evening officials were instructed to prepare a statement announcing the MPA the following day just as Parliament went into the Easter recess. It sparked emergency debates in both Houses five days later.

The judgment observes that “it was the personal decision of the Foreign Secretary to declare an MPA on 1 April 2010, against the advice of officials.” So his green legacy was secured but at much cost in terms of worldwide perceptions of the MPA, the UK’s reputation, the deepening mistrust, felt by the Chagossians and Mauritius, and the litigation which three years later is still with us.

Further discussions, as officials recommended, could have resulted in an MPA that accommodated Chagossian and Mauritian interests. The Coalition Government would probably have insisted on it anyway.