Chagos All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting: Coordinator's Summary
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands has held it's first meeting since the General Election. As it was the first meeting in this Parliamentary term, the group began the meeting by electing it's committee. The below summary is is provided as ever by the group's reappointed voluntary coordinator, David Snoxell.
We pay tribute to the work of all APPG members, including those who lost their seat at this election. Paul Monaghan, Danny Kinahan and Mark Durkan were all much-valued supporters who were not re-elected. Andrew Tyrie MP, another long-standing member of the group, also stood down at the election.
All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands: coordinator's summary of the first meeting since the election
Jeremy Corbyn was elected Hon President; Andrew Rosindell, Chairman; Henry Smith, Baroness Whitaker, Lord Steel, Lord Ramsbotham and Patrick Grady (to replace Paul Monaghan ), Vice-chairs; Alan Brown, Secretary. The DUP will be invited to nominate a Vice-chair. David Snoxell was re-appointed Coordinator, Richard Gifford Legal Adviser and Oliver Taylor admin support officer. The Group decided that it would aim to recruit up to 100 members.
The Group discussed future strategy. It was felt that new ministers and officials, a new political situation and the UN General Assembly resolution referring Chagos to the International Court of Justice provided new opportunities and that there was now scope for re-assessment of the previous Government's decision against resettlement. The new FCO minister responsible for BIOT, Lord Ahmad, would be invited to the Group's next meeting on 18 October. Since its establishment in December 2008 the Group had, in the course of 62 meetings and in numerous parliamentary debates and interventions, put forward many proposals and suggestions to government for resolving the situation. Members felt strongly that its views should be considered properly both by officials and ministers and discussed with the Group, and not ignored as they were in a ministerial statement of 16 November 2016 and recently in a letter from an FCO private secretary.
Members took note of the answers to PQs since 21 June tabled by Catherine West and Sir Alan Duncan's statement of 26 June. They also discussed EDM 58 tabled on 26 June, welcoming the UNGA resolution of 22 June.
The Group noted that Olivier Bancoult had been a member of the Mauritian delegation to the UN General Assembly, convened by the President of UNGA to debate Mauritius' draft resolution, sponsored by the African Union and Latin American states. The resolution had inter alia referred the legal consequences of the absence of Chagossian resettlement to the International Court of Justice. Members felt that the result was a humiliating diplomatic defeat as out of the 193 member states of the UN only 14 voted with the UK, of whom only two were members of the Security Council and four of the EU. The UK had not suffered such a defeat in UNGA since the Suez crisis in 1956. This sent a powerful signal that the overwhelming majority of states wanted to see an end to the continuing exile of the Chagossian people, which had lasted nearly 50 years, and a resolution of the UK's sovereignty dispute with Mauritius.
The Group would have expected the FCO to negotiate a settlement with Mauritius which obviated the need for an UNGA resolution and referral to the ICJ. However an advisory opinion of the ICJ would provide a solid basis for resolving these issues. Members decided that as an all-party group of the Westminster Parliament they were entitled to submit their views to both the ICJ and states with a direct interest in this matter.
The Group was briefed on the Supreme Court hearing by 7 judges on 28/29 June of the case, known as Bancoult No 3, concerning the declaration by the BIOT Commissioner of the Marine Protected Area on 1 April 2010. Judgment was reserved. The Group was informed that a judicial review of the Government's decision on 16 November 2016 not to allow resettlement would be going ahead this year and might also reach the Supreme Court if the Government continued to refuse a pilot resettlement as recommended by KPMG.
The Group was briefed by the Coordinator on the work being done by the FCO to develop the support package to improve the livelihoods of Chagossians in their communities, announced on 16 November 2016. Members recalled the compromise proposals, outlined in the Group's statement of 26 April (attached) which could also be funded by the package and asked what consideration had been given to these ideas, and also to its arguments concerning the restoration of the right of abode. Members noted that the Chagos Refugees Group had rejected the package.
Members were informed that Olivier Bancoult, six members of the CRG and the Coordinator had a meeting with the Leader of the Opposition on 28 June to discuss developments during which Mr Corbyn confirmed that the Labour Party would maintain is manifesto pledge of "supporting the right of the Chagos Islanders to return home"
The next meeting will be on 18 October.