In an article for the Mauritius Times (No. 3124), David Snoxell,Â coordinator of the Chagos IslandsÂ (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group,Â reviews the outcome of theÂ judicial review of the Chagos MarineÂ 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 theÂ judicial review provide fascinatingÂ insights into the advice being submittedÂ to the Foreign Secretary, leadingÂ up to the announcement of the MPAÂ on 1 April 2010. Officials cautionedÂ that the results of the public consultationÂ should be announced but notÂ rushed, pending careful â€œmanagementâ€Â of the Chagossians andÂ Mauritius. â€œThere was further work toÂ do with stakeholders before establishingÂ an MPA.â€ Officials warned thatÂ â€œOur best defence against the legalÂ challenges which are likely to be forthcomingÂ is to demonstrate a conscientiousÂ and careful decision makingÂ process. A rapid decision now wouldÂ undermine that… We would expect toÂ recommend a phased introduction ofÂ a no-take MPA which would give timeÂ to put a sustainable funding packageÂ in place.â€
Within hours David MilibandÂ brushed aside official advice andÂ decided on an immediate designationÂ of a full â€˜no-takeâ€™ MPA. On 31 MarchÂ senior officials made last ditchÂ attempts to head the ForeignÂ Secretary off. One noted, â€œI think thisÂ approach risks deciding (and beingÂ seen to decide) policy on the hoof forÂ political timetabling reasons ratherÂ than on the basis of expert advice andÂ public consultation. Thatâ€™s a very differentÂ approach to the one we recommendedÂ yesterday… to be developedÂ over time with the involvement ofÂ many stakeholders and to be basedÂ on science as well as politics.â€ ThatÂ evening officials were instructed toÂ prepare a statement announcing theÂ MPA the following day just asÂ Parliament went into the EasterÂ recess. It sparked emergency debatesÂ in both Houses five days later.
The judgment observes that â€œitÂ was the personal decision of theÂ Foreign Secretary to declare an MPAÂ on 1 April 2010, against the advice ofÂ officials.â€ So his green legacy wasÂ secured but at much cost in terms ofÂ worldwide perceptions of the MPA, theÂ UKâ€™s reputation, the deepening mistrust,Â felt by the Chagossians andÂ Mauritius, and the litigation whichÂ 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.