During the latest meeting of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary group several new members were welcomed and as ever political and legal developments relevant to the islands and their people were discussed by all present. Thanks to Coordinator David Snoxell for the below summary.
The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-party Parliamentary Group held its 77th meeting on 4 March. New members Lord McConnell (a former First Minister of Scotland), Baroness Lister, Lord Judd (former FCO Minister) and Lord Hain (former FCO Minister) were welcomed. The Group noted that there were now 7 former FCO ministers who had joined the APPG. The Group elected Baroness Ludford (Lib-Dem) to be a vice chair, replacing Lord Steel who had retired from the House of Lords.
The Group reviewed Parliamentary Questions (PQs) and Questions tabled since the last meeting on 29 January, noting that there continued to be selective interpretation of the legal and historical aspects. They took note of a paper by Richard Dunne challenging the Government's understanding of the legal status of the 1965 Lancaster House Agreement (LHA) by virtue of the 2015 UNCLOS Arbitral Tribunal Award, which showed that the LHA was not legally binding in international law.
Members wondered what progress had been made with Mauritius on an overall settlement of the Chagos dispute and the resettlement of the Chagossians since the two Prime Ministers met in London on 20 January and why the first anniversary of the ICJ Advisory Opinion of 25 February 2019 had been ignored. They felt that the FCO should work out a resettlement plan with Mauritius. Looking for ways of de-escalating the dispute required compromise on both sides. The goal should be resettlement followed by an overall settlement. The next step was that the UN Secretary General would report to the General Assembly in mid April on the implementation of UNGA resolution 73/295 of 22 May 2019.
While acknowledging the importance of the Diego Garcia base to both the US and UK the Group agreed that Chagos should be part of the Integrated Review which will cover all aspects of foreign, defence, security and international development policy, from the roles of the FCO and DFID to the capabilities of the Armed Forces. It is due to report in the autumn. Resettlement and the future of the Islands were obvious subjects for inclusion, given that the Outer Islands had never been required for defence purposes.
The Chairman said that he was to have a meeting with the new FCO Minister, Baroness Sugg who in the FCO is responsible for the Overseas Territories and Sustainable Development. The Group felt that more progress would be made if this were a meeting without officials. The Group hoped it would lead to an APPG meeting with the Foreign Secretary.
The next meeting is on 29 April.