It’s fair to say you don’t hear a huge amount about Chagos in the mainstream media. So it was great to see poet and author Benjamin Zephaniah bringing up the Diego Garcia story on the BBC’s Question Time last night (it’s on iPlayer here, the relevant bit starts at 43:30).
It was part of a discussion about the royals meddling in politics, prompted by the controversy around Prince Charles being offered a veto on certain new legislation.
“We are told that we elect our politicians and the royal family stay out of it… There’s an island called Diego Garcia, and the British citizens were moved off that island for an American base to come on. In the British courts the people of [Diego Garcia] won the right to return and because of some kind of antiquated rule or whatever, some people went into a room with the Queen and they stood up and the Queen just overruled the decision of the court… We’re not being democratic if politicians make decisions and members of the royal family can veto them.”
He’s right, although it’s worth pointing out that what the monarch rubber stamped that day was drafted by the Foreign Office under the New Labour government. It wasn’t the Queen who was abusing her power – the government were abusing it for her. So the problem isn’t so much the royals being naughty, it’s that their antiquated powers are wide open to abuse.
The result, as we know, is that vulnerable people suffer.
The whole story is brilliantly told in John Pilger’s film Stealing a Nation, which you can watch online here.