Ministers were answering fresh questions about the future of the Chagos Islands in Parliament this week. Labour MP Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) asked Minister James Duddridge very directly “What the Government's policy is on the future of the Chagos Islands?”
A good question indeed, but unsurprisingly it received a familiar answer.
“The Government concluded an independent feasibility study in February 2015, and carried out a twelve week public consultation, the results of which we published in January this year. The Government is still considering its policy in this area and will announce developments to Parliament and the public in due course.”
It is difficult to read too much into this statement, although it is perhaps worth noting “in due course” seems to have replaced “soon” in Government statements about when a decision will be made and announced.
The Chagos Islands Marine Protected Area was also questioned in Parliament recently. The Marine Protected Area has always been controversial, with Wikileaks documents suggesting it was in part set up to prevent Chagossian return.
The independent Government commissioned feasibility study published last year, however, demonstrated that the MPA was entirely compatible with Chagossian return.
It was the difficulty of actually enforcing the Marine Protected Area which came under scrutiny this week though, with Conservative MP Dr Mathew Offord asking what representations “what representations had been made to the US to secure co-operation in enforcement of closed marine areas” around the Chagos Islands, and also Ascension Island.
In response Minister James Duddridge simply stated that the UK Government were in regular communication with their US counterparts on this issue.
One of the many benefits of Chagossian return would of course be a ready, highly-motivated workforce ready to enforce the Chagos Marine Protected Area, as is acknowledged by marine consultancy Seas Life.
Meanwhile, last week in Parliament Chagos All-Party Group Chair Andrew Rosindell asked James Duddridge, (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State of For Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) whether the British Indian Ocean Territory (the official UK name for the Chagos Islands) Commissioner discussed the issue of Chagossian return with Olivier Bancoult, the Leader of the Chagos Refugees Group, on his recent visit to Mauritius.
We are heartened to hear that the Commissioner did take time out of his busy schedule to meet Chagossians, including Mr Bancoult, to discuss return. Although this matter has been dragging on for a while, we welcome the reassurance that the UK is still considering its policy in this area and that developments will be announced ‘in due course’. Crossed fingers that justice and fair play will rule the day!