Campaign Response: British Indian Ocean Territory

I have been contacted by constituents about the British Indian Ocean Territory.

As the Member of Parliament for Milton Keynes South, I have included below my response:

The UK has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago, which has been under continuous British sovereignty since 1814. Mauritius has never held sovereignty over the Archipelago and the UK does not recognise its claim. However, the UK has a long-standing commitment since 1965 to cede sovereignty of the territory to Mauritius when it is no longer required for defence purposes and I have been assured that the Government stands by that commitment.

In February 2019, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965.  An Advisory Opinion is advice provided to the UN General Assembly at its request. It is not a legally binding judgment. I am told that the UK Government has considered the content of the Opinion carefully, but it does not share the Court’s approach. 

The UK voted against General Assembly resolution 73/295 and remains of the view that the ICJ and General Assembly are not the appropriate forums for resolving what is fundamentally a bilateral matter of disputed sovereignty between two UN member states. 

The UK was not a party to the proceedings of the Special Chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which, I am informed, have no effect for the UK or for maritime delimitation between the UK (in respect of the British Indian Ocean Territory) and the Republic of the Maldives.

In 2016, a decision was announced not to support the resettlement of Chagossians to British Indian Ocean Territory on the grounds of feasibility, defence and security interests, and the cost to the British taxpayer. This followed an independent feasibility study of the practicalities of resettlement as well as a public consultation. There were particular concerns about the difficulty of establishing modern public services, the limited healthcare and education that it would be possible to provide, and the lack of economic opportunities, particularly job prospects and ongoing liabilities to the British taxpayer. It was estimated that the initial cost of resettlement would range from £55 million for 50 people to £256 million for 1,500.

I understand that the decision on resettlement was very disappointing for those that campaigned hard to return, but I am pleased that the Government is committed to addressing the aspirations which make Chagossians seek to resettle, such as their desire for better lives, as well as their wish to maintain a connection with the territory.

I welcome that the Government is continuing work to deliver a Support Package worth approximately £40 million, to improve Chagossian livelihoods in the communities in Mauritius, the Seychelles and the UK where they now live.