Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting: Coordinator's Summary
Thanks to voluntary Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group Coordinator David Snoxell for the below summary. Please remember to write to your MP and ask them to sign the Motion calling for Chagossians to be given the right to return to your homeland.
The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 8th AGM and 55th meeting on 8 June. The following officers were re-elected:
Hon President, Jeremy Corbyn MP; Chairman, Andrew Rosindell MP; Vice Chairs: Baroness Whitaker, Lord Ramsbotham, Lord Steel, Henry Smith MP, Paul Monaghan MP; Secretary, Alan Brown MP. The Group re-appointed David Snoxell as Coordinator, Richard Gifford as Legal Adviser and Oliver Taylor as administrative assistant. The Chairman noted that the past 12 months had been one of consolidation and expansion for the Group which now had 47 members representing all ten political parties in Parliament, the only APPG to do so. He welcomed the latest member Peter Grant MP.
The Chairman confirmed that the PM had acknowledged the letter from Olivier Bancoult which he and Mr Bancoult had delivered to Number Ten on 7 April. Members agreed on parliamentary actions to be pursued after the EU referendum on 23 June. They took note of the Early Day motion (text below) which now had 45 signatures and agreed to circulate it among colleagues. One of the sponsors was Henry Bellingham, a recent FCO Minister responsible for BIOT. The Group considered the PQs, Answers and parliamentary interventions since the last meeting on 13 April. They noted that in his reply to Henry Smith on 20 April the PM had said that "the National Security Council and Cabinet have been looking at the situation of the Chagos Islanders and reviewing all the options for how we can help with their future.
Those discussions have taken place and obviously we need to come to a conclusion about the best way forward". Members were aware that to resolve the continuing delay in reaching an agreed position the PM had asked a Cabinet Office Minister to undertake a further review with a view to the Government making a decision before the summer recess on 22 July. The Group noted that recent Answers and ministerial letters were, however, reiterating that a decision would be taken "in due course". Members felt strongly that a decision should not be held over for announcement during the recess as had happened with previous Chagos policy decisions. They were concerned about the continuing delay in reaching a decision on the KPMG options which had been published in January 2015. The Group felt that it could only support an option that was acceptable to the Chagossians.
The Group also considered the PQ/Answer and exchange of letters between Roger Godsiff MP and FCO Minister, James Duddridge over the recent trend by the FCO to convert the 1977 and 1982 Chagossian compensation into current prices. They were pleased to note that the FCO had recalculated the figure bringing it down from £21m to £15.5m. As a result of the Group's efforts since 2013 the FCO was much more aware of the limited value at the time, for economic and social reasons, of that compensation.
Members also discussed the meetings the PM and Leader of the Opposition had with President Obama during his visit to London at the end of April. Members noted that in answer to a question from the Daily Mail, Downing Street had confirmed that the PM had "raised the issue of BIOT with the President in the context of the Government's ongoing review of resettlement". Jeremy Corbyn also discussed resettlement with the President who listened sympathetically without raising any objections. The Group thought that had the US any fundamental difficulties the President would have been briefed to raise them.
The US was clearly content for the UK to resolve the issues. One member pointed out that the UK provided the US with defence facilities on four of its overseas territories and was therefore in a strong position to expect the US Government to be helpful over resettlement. But as indicated in the EDM the Group urged that resettlement be a condition of renewal of the 1966 UK/US Agreement at the end of this year. The Group noted that this was the first time that a US President had discussed resettlement with a Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition and was thus a landmark in the Chagossian campaign to return to their homeland.
The Group discussed the failure to make progress of the Anglo-Mauritian talks in Mauritius (second round 11 May) on the implementation of the UNCLOS Arbitral Tribunal Award of March 2015, and the political and legal reasons why Mauritius declined to discuss resettlement with the UK, as set out in a reply by Prime Minister Jugnauth to a Private Notice Question from the Leader of the Opposition. The Group was informed that the UK had offered a date for a third round of talks but that it was likely that Mauritius would instead seek a resolution of the UN General Assembly referring the issue of sovereignty to the ICJ for an advisory opinion.
The Group again expressed concern over the length of time it was taking the Supreme Court to give judgment on the Bancoult case which it heard on 22 June 2015.
The next meeting will be 21 July just before the recess.