Parliamentarians attack FCO on timing of Chagos announcement

Jeremy Corbyn MP and Lord Avebury have become the first Parliamentarians to formally criticise the FCO over its announcement to create a no-take marine protected area (MPA) in the Chagos islands.

Mr Corbyn – a longstanding supporter of the Chagossians and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands – wrote to the Foreign Secretary David Miliband to highlight a promise given by FCO Minister Ivan Lewis just three weeks ago:

“I therefore put on record a commitment to make sure, wherever possible, that interested hon. Members are briefed before we make final decisions on the marine protected area.”

This guarantee, made to MPs during a parliamentary debate, was cynically ignored by the Foreign Secretary when he made his statement during the Easter recess and lays bear just how much importance Mr Miliband attaches to parliamentary scrutiny of his actions.

Mr Corbyn also points out several other occasions where the FCO has consciously timed its announcements and decisions on the Chagos islands to coincide with occasions where Parliament was not sitting. This tactic of making decisions via the back door is tantamount to an admission by FCO officials that they know that their policy towards Chagos and the Chagossians is wrong and would never be accepted by Parliamentarians or the general public if put up for genuine discussion.

For his part, Lord Avebury – himself a Vice-Chair of the Chagos Islands APPG – expresses “shock and dismay” at Mr Miliband’s decision.

His strongly worded condemnation of the Foreign Secretary makes clear that the creation of a full no-take reserve in Chagos would make the Chagossians’ return “impossible in practice, because the only immediate means of sustenance available to them would be fishing.”

He goes on to say that, “this looks like an improper attempt to bring pressure to bear on the [European Court of Human Rights], as well as being in contempt of Parliament and in total disregard for the interests of the Chagossian people whom Parliament, if not your Government, is morally obliged to defend.”

The Liberal Democrat peer concludes: “I can only say I hope you are proud of the way you have trampled on the principles of Parliamentary democracy and transparency of government.”

There can be no doubt that the Foreign Secretary’s decision to create a no-take MPA in the Chagos islands has been rushed. As has been pointed out, the FCO Facilitator’s report took just over three weeks to produce instead of the typical three months (a statement that the assessment should have taken three months to complete is available as an audio recording, and will be posted here as soon as possible).

As a consequence, the Facilitator was restricted to producing a sober, detached and wholly descriptive account of the submissions received, rather than an analytical weighing up of the merits of each given proposal. There was no analysis of the feasibility of allowing resettlement; no counter to the argument that unilaterally imposing a no-take reserve would be in violation of international law; and no assessment of the merits of involving the Chagossians in conservation initiatives instead of working against them.

Was this done to avoid the possibility of the Facilitator’s report reaching a conclusion at odds with the FCO’s favoured outcome? Perhaps if the Facilitator had taken a view on the Chagossian dimension, Mr Miliband would have been forced to make even a solitary mention of the Chagossians as part of his announcement – whereas, in the event, his statement was absent even that.

The conclusion that the Foreign Office had its mind made up all along is a difficult one to resist. However, as the Chagossians’ supporters in Parliament make clear, this does not mean that the fight for justice is over.

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