Allen Vincatassin, Leader of the Diego Garcian Community in Crawley was invited to address the Group. He explained the aspirations and position of his community who, whilst supporting the right of all Chagossians to return to their homeland, wished to remain in the UK and to be known as Diego Garcians. They wanted Diego Garcia to remain under British sovereignty.
In private session the meeting went on to discuss the correspondence between the Chairman and the FCO Minister, Gillian Merron. Members noted that whilst the FCO wanted to continue a dialogue with Parliament their position remained unchanged. The meeting endorsed the Chairman’s letter to the Foreign Secretary inviting him to meet the Group before the summer recess.
The meeting noted the 23 April Westminster Hall debate on the FAC Report on the OTs and that Chagos issues had been addressed in detail by the Chairmen of both the FAC and the APPG, and by the Conservative and Lib-Dem shadow ministers for Foreign Affairs who had stated that resolving these issues was ‘a moral imperative’ calling for the restoration of the right of return and for a timetable to be established.
The Group considered a report on a meeting that the Chairman and Coordinator had had on 31 March with the Mauritian High Commissioner concerning future sovereignty of the Chagos Islands and resettlement which he said were inseparable issues. Mauritius firmly supported the right of return and would make this possible.
The Group continued to support the amendments tabled in the Lords (concerning British citizenship for Chagossians who had been excluded in 2001) to the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill which would shortly have its second reading in the Commons.
The APPG was informed that the White House had decided that there would not be a reply to the Chairman’s letter of 28 February to President Obama. But they were encouraged that the US Embassy continued to take a close interest in developments and that the US side was ready to discuss the issues with the FCO. In view of this the Group felt that it would be helpful if the Chairman’s letter were made publicly available. The Group noted that Lord Luce had raised the issues with the State Department in early April.
The resolution of the European Parliament of 25 March, ‘considering that the Union should work towards trying to find a solution for the Chagossians to allow them to return to their rightful homeland islands’, was felt to be very helpful. The meeting was informed that the European Court had accepted a delay proposed by the FCO of their response to the Chagossian Application, from 12 June to 17 July, and that the Court had asked the UK about its position concerning an out of court friendly settlement.
The Group discussed the Radio 4 programme, (12 May, ‘What’s the use of the Privy Council?’) and comments by the former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, who had submitted the 2004 Orders in Council depriving the Chagossians of their right to return. The Justice Secretary invoked his predecessor, Robin Cook (who restored the right of return in 2000) and admitted that in retrospect the Orders should have been submitted to the FAC for parliamentary scrutiny and that by not doing so he had exchanged legitimacy for speed. The implications for the Lord’s majority verdict and the European Court case were clear. The meeting also took note of the debate in the Lords on 12 May on the Privy Council in which Lord MacNally had drawn attention to the ‘shameful case’ of the Chagos Islanders and Mr Straw’s admission. It was also noted that Baroness Royall, replying on behalf of the Government, had agreed with Mr Straw that he should have engaged in parliamentary scrutiny to debate the issues of the Chagos Islanders.