Chagos Islands

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:45 pm on 28th October 2015.

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Photo of Paul Monaghan Paul Monaghan Scottish National Party, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross 4:45 pm, 28th October 2015

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the Chagos Islands.

Thank you, Mr Rosindell, for the opportunity to consider the many issues that confront the UK Government in respect of the Chagos islands. It is my privilege to serve under your chairmanship as a member of the all-party parliamentary group on the Chagos islands.

It would be remiss of me not to begin the debate by highlighting the presence of the Chagossians, other interested parties and Members from all political parties who have taken the time and trouble to be present here today; it is rare for a humble Westminster Hall debate to be so well attended. The interest in the debate reflects the widespread concern, and high levels of interest, from across the world for the people of the Chagos islands. Many here today have worked tirelessly to highlight the injustices perpetrated on the indigenous people of the Chagos islands over many years by a nation state that, quite bluntly, should know better.

On 8 November 1965—almost 50 years ago to the day—Harold Wilson, the then Prime Minister, authorised the creation of the British Indian Ocean Territory. That act was far from benign. The establishment of that territory was nothing less than a cynical and calculated plan to annex the Chagos archipelago, expel its indigenous people and deploy resources for military advantage.

The plan hinged on shameless exploitation. During a five-year period from 1968 to 1973, every single Chagossian man, woman and child was forcibly removed in secret from the islands. None has since been allowed to return. For the past 50 years, Chagossians have lived in poverty. To the utter shame of every UK Government and the 17 Foreign Secretaries since, that ethnic cleansing of an entire people has been variously ignored, glossed over or actively misrepresented.

The purpose of the annexation was to facilitate the leasing of the largest island in the Chagos archipelago, Diego Garcia, to the United States to allow the construction of an enormous military base. The base remains today. We now know that, in return for annexing the archipelago and expelling its people, the UK Government received a cash discount of £11 million on Polaris nuclear missiles, which is equivalent to about £200 million today when adjusted for inflation.

The story of Chagos has been a chronicle of abuse, naked greed and bullying on a grand scale. Indeed, it is a narrative of the hideous abuse of power and trust perpetrated against a humble people and an account of the success of a plan that hinged on the reprehensible neglect of a people’s inalienable human rights. Many believe that abuse of power falls within the International Criminal Court’s definition of a crime against humanity. That may be so, but we can be certain that human rights were sacrificed by the UK Government in a sordid deal to secure weapons of mass destruction. I am sure the Minister agrees that that is an appalling legacy.

Before 1968, more than 2,000 people lived on the Chagos islands, with many having family histories dating back almost 200 years. Chagossians had a thriving society, with numerous villages, schools, hospitals, churches and businesses, and a unique way of life. Unknown to Parliament, and in clear breach of United Nations charters, the UK plotted to deliberately destroy that society. The truth about the cleansing of the Chagossians, and the Whitehall conspiracy to deny that there had ever been an indigenous population, did not emerge for almost 20 years, until files were unearthed at the Public Record Office in Kew by the historian Mark Curtis, the journalist John Pilger and lawyers acting for the former inhabitants of the islands, who were campaigning for a return to their homeland.