Britain Clings To Its Imperial Past

London holds onto its foreign territories. On 27th October, Policy Exchange, one of Albion’s biggest and most respected think tanks, published a report named “Sovereignty and Security in the Indian Ocean”. It discussed the importance of retaining authority over the Chagos Archipelago, also known as the British Indian Ocean Territory. The document was evaluated by Alan West, the ex First Sea Lord, which means that the research paper can almost be regarded as an official statement from London.

The archipelago comprises sixty small islands, with the largest, Diego Garcia, being of significance due to the airbase stationed there. This facility is currently on a lease from the United States until 2035, with a joint British-American garrison consisting of around 3,000 deployed at the site. It acts as a remote landing and takeoff field for local forces and was used for organizing strategic and reconnaissance aircraft sorties in the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns.

The flag of British Indian Ocean Territory flies on the Foreign Office building in London

The UN Court instructed the UK to hand over the archipelago to Mauritius back in 2019. Most of the votes supported this decision in the appropriate UNGA resolution. In 2021, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea confirmed the ruling.

London probably won’t contest the result of the matter or come up with a believable excuse for not doing so.  First and foremost, Chagos was under the administrative control of Mauritius, regardless of whether it was under French or British rule.  The separation was artificial when it became evident in 1968 that the island would have to achieve independence, and by then, the idea of constructing an airbase was already being deliberated. Secondly, the island’s inhabitants were Creoles, similar to Mauritians, and were descendants of slaves brought by the French.  Thirdly, we recall the population in the past tense because they were all illegally relocated to Mauritius and Seychelles when the military facility was constructed. Their descendants still strive for their right to return home.

In November 2022, London kindly agreed to discuss returning the territory with the islanders. However, the British position is unhelpful and seeks to delay the process. The UK insists that the airbase should stay operational even after the transfer of sovereignty.

In Port Louis, there was a compromise, but the matter of people coming back is still not solved.  It’s not clear how those people can live on the little islands that are empty and try to do business since deployment of base personnel and the installation of security perimeter once required the eviction of all residents. Even if some people want to share the islands with the military, the British say they can’t give the land back before the lease ends. They might even expect to find another pretext for delaying the resolution.

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