Chagos: coalition ditches promise to reverse policy

UK government ministers come out against resettlement of Indian Ocean islanders.

If a week is a long time in politics, surely it is an age since the UK's coalition government was formed. And it's also the summer holidays, which is usually the time when civil servants conspire with ministers to smuggle unpopular items into the public domain in order to escape parliamentary scrutiny and public debate.

Both these factors might well explain why the government appears to have ditched the pre-election commitment made by William Hague and Nick Clegg to change the former Labour government's shameful policy towards the former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands, forcibly removed from their homeland to make way for the US military base on Diego Garcia.

A recent letter written by the minister responsible for British Overseas Territories, Henry Bellingham, to the leader of the Chagos Refugee Group, Olivier Bancoult, leaves little ambiguity about the new government's policy:

The UK government will continue to contest the case brought by the Chagos Islanders to the European Court of Human Rights. This is because we believe that the arguments against allowing resettlement on the grounds of defence, security and feasibility are clear and compelling.

Interestingly, despite his hesitation when pressed in parliament in late May to endorse the initiative announced by the former foreign secretary David Miliband, to turn the Chagos Archipelago into a marine protected area, and therefore uninhabitable territory, on 1 April -- Maundy Thursday afternoon (another device to wrong-foot parliament) -- Bellingham seems to have become an enthusiastic convert. He also tells Bancoult:

The Government also believes that a Marine Protected Area (MPA) is the right way ahead for furthering environmental protection of the Territory and encouraging others to do the same in important and vulnerable areas under their sovereign control.

This will come as a shock not only to the Chagos exiles, who were led to believe that their fortunes were about to change, but also to the government of Mauritius, which has been told on numerous occasions that the territory will be returned when it is "no longer needed for defence purposes".

The intention was reiterated when the new Foreign Secretary, William Hague, met Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam during a private visit to the UK by the Mauritian leader in early June.

However, as an old hand at the political game, Ramgoolam remained sceptical and was wise enough to pay a visit to the offices of his London lawyers about reclaiming the archipelago, which was detached from the colony of Mauritius in 1965, in breach of international law, before independence from Britain in 1968.

Perhaps the Mauritian premier should consider giving them another call.

Dr Sean Carey is research fellow at the Centre for Research on Nationalism, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism (CRONEM) at Roehampton University.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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