MPs condemn Government’s decision in passionate morning in the House of Commons
Following yesterday’s decision against Chagossian resettlement, the House of Commons today heard urgent questions on the future of the islands.
In a long and empassioned response to the Minister’s statement, Andrew Rosindell MP, Chair of the Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), asked “does [the Minister] not understand the shock, anger and dismay among members of the Chagossian community” at the decision made?"
He went on to mention the extensive evidence in favour of resettlement in security, defence and economic terms and the attitude of the courts, which have “deplored” the treatment of the Chagossian people.
He rounded off by saying“British Chagossians should have the right of self-determination that is afforded to all Her Majesty’s subjects, who rightly expect the protection of the Crown, which is being denied to the Chagossians today.”
Similar questions and statements came from all sides of the house, in what was a packed session in the chamber. Twenty MPs spoke.
Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, said:
“The treatment of the Chagos islanders is a dark stain on our country’s history. Yesterday’s decision, and the manner in which it was made, has done nothing to remove that stain. It is another disgraceful attempt to cover it up, but it will not be covered up. The Chagossians can be assured that the Opposition, led as we are by someone who has campaigned for them for 30 years, will never give up on their right to return”.
In a damning indictment of UK spending on Overseas Territories, Mrs Thornberry pointed out that the Government had previously spent £250 million on an airport in St Helena which is not even fit for purpose. Projected costs of Chagossian resettlement are well below this figure.
Former Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond MP, added to Mrs Thornberry’s remarks:
“In the late 1960s, the community on the Chagos Islands was fully employed and perfectly sustainable. How can the Minister seriously argue now that it would not be so in modern times… Instead of apologising for the past, will the Minister properly address the future and allocate to these people their right of self-determination and their right of return?”
Only one MP, Mr James Duddridge, a former Minister for BIOT (the official name for the Chagos Islands), spoke out in favour of the decision, calling it a “sensitive decision but the right decision”. He continued by saying “I think I am the only person in the House today who has visited [the islands]. It was certainly quite a difficult experience; over five days, I spent only 15 minutes on land in a bed. This is a massive area, and it is very difficult to get to. It would be wholly impossible to populate the islands”.
Mr Duddridge had previously argued that, had the British not forcibly expelled the Chagossian population when they had, the Chagossians would have left within five years anyhow due to tough conditions. He suggested the islands were wholly uninhabitable, despite the largest US military base outside of the US having existed there for close to half a century. He reiterated how he had only spent 15 minutes on the islands.
Throughout the debate, Sir Alan Duncan MP, the Minister responding on behalf of the Government, continued to reaffirm that the decision is final. He also repeatedly mentioned that the Chagossians had been wholly compensated for their suffering – this despite the compensation issue being heavily contentious and it being well-known that Seychellois Chagossians never received a penny.
Sir Alan was also demonstrably incorrect when he stated "few if any Chagossians wanted to work on the US military base." A Foreign Office consultation with the Chagossian community indicated that 70 per cent of respondents would be willing to work on the base on return.
We remain appalled by the Government’s decision and subsequent justifications. We still feel no wiser as to how the decision was made in the face of such lengthy evidence suggesting resettlement would be feasible.
The £40 million funding package for Chagossians remains a mystery. The Minister has not disclosed how this figure was decided on orwhat it may be used for. We hope the Government will shed some light on these issues as a matter of urgency and remain open to debate around the issue of resettlement – many unanswered questions still remain.
Please watch the debate in full and leave comments below. Questions on Chagos begin at 10:34:35.
And please also stay tuned for further updates.