WikiLeaks, a forgotten people, and the record-breaking marine reserve

The British government used “marine-protected areas” as a means to preserve the Chagos Archipelago a

A US embassy cable, released by WikiLeaks last week, revealed the real reason why a British territory in the Indian Ocean was designated a "marine-protected area" (MPA) earlier this year.

The leaked documents show that the MPA had been dreamt up by Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials to preserve the Chagos Archipelago – officially part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) and and home to one of the world's most abundant coral reefs – as a military outpost, and prevent the native Chagossians from returning.

The indigenous population of the archipelago was deported in the late 1960s and early 1970s to enable the US to build a military base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands and home to most of their inhabitants. Britain paid £3m to the Mauritian government in compensation after excising the archipelago, with the proviso that the territories would be returned when they were "no longer needed for defence purposes".

After pointing out that the islands' strategic usefulness would not be hampered by the establishment of a marine reserve, the cable goes on to state that "the BIOT's former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands".

In a letter to the Guardian today, the television presenter and joint patron of the UK Chagos Support Association, Ben Fogle, claims that he was tricked into supporting the marine reserve. He writes:

As a long-term advocate of conservation, I am horrified that the UK government has used this to keep the islanders from returning to their rightful home, and that I was duped into supporting the creation of the marine sanctuary under false pretences.

Meanwhile, the Mauritian prime minister, Dr Navin Ramgoolam, told fellow parliamentarians yesterday that his government was carefully considering its options to counter the unilateral declaration of the marine-protected area. The MPA was instituted on 1 April – despite an undertaking from the then British prime minister, Gordon Brown, and his foreign secretary, David Miliband, that the Mauritian government would be consulted.

Ramgoolam said this was particularly important, given that the UK's coalition government has shown no sign of deviating from the course set by the previous government "about the MPA and the sovereignty of Mauritius over the Chagos Archipelago".

He continued: "With regard to the marine-protected area, it is now clear, in light of what WikiLeaks revealed last week, that there is a Machiavellian agenda behind this project, to prevent the Chagossians [from returning] to their homeland and to defer discussion on the sovereignty of Mauritius indefinitely, as I have always maintained. Ce qui prouve, à ce stade, que notre position était justifiée!"

Nick Leake, the new British high commissioner to Mauritius, probably thought he had got a posting to paradise when he took up the position in June. He must have other thoughts after being summoned to appear at the ministry of foreign affairs in Port Louis this week to explain the duplicitous behaviour of the British government. He won't get a comfortable ride from the foreign minister, Dr Arvin Boolell.

These revelations did not come as a surprise to Olivier Bancoult. One of a lost generation of Chagossians, born on Peros Banhos, an island in the archipelago, to a family of refugees, Bancoult grew up to become the most prominent activist on behalf of this forgotten people. He was one of the founders of the Chagos Refugees Group, and eventually he took the British government to court.

He began legal proceedings against the UK government in 1998 and won a series of judgments at the high court and Court of Appeal before losing his case by a narrow 3-2 majority in the House of Lords in 2008.

"It's all very consistent with the way British officials have behaved towards us in the past," he told me, speaking from his home in the Mauritian capital. "Our fundamental rights have been trampled upon for years."

Nevertheless, he thinks that the WikiLeaks cable might be the smoking gun the Chagossians need. The new evidence of the real reasoning behind the establishment of the MPA has significant implications for the Chagossians' case, which is before the European Court of Human Rights.

"This is very important for our cause and we have instructed our lawyers to submit the new evidence contained in the WikiLeak to the court in Strasbourg," he continued.

Bancoult also revealed that he and other Chagossians has been inundated with messages of support from well-wishers, both in Mauritius and elsewhere, since the WikiLeak was released. And like many others, including no doubt the 42 members of the Chagos all-party parliamentary group in Britain, he is particularly keen to know more about the clearly racist reference to the Chagos Islanders as "Man Fridays" used by Colin Roberts, commissioner for the BIOT.

"This is very shameful for the British government," says Bancoult. "I am going to ask Henry Bellingham [the Foreign Office minister responsible for Africa and British overseas territories], who I met a few months back when I came to London, whether he approves of the use of this sort of language.

"This is not a way to treat people. We are human beings – we should not be insulted in this way."

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

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Are the Conservatives getting ready to learn to love the EEA?

You can see the shape of the deal that the right would accept. 

In an early morning address aimed half reassuring the markets and half at salvaging his own legacy, George Osborne set out the government’s stall.

The difficulty was that the two halves were hard to reconcile. Talk of “fixing the roof” and getting Britain’s finances in control, an established part of Treasury setpieces under Osborne, are usually merely wrong. With the prospect of further downgrades in Britain’s credit rating and thus its ability to borrow cheaply, the £1.6 trillion that Britain still owes and the country’s deficit in day-to-day spending, they acquired a fresh layer of black humour. It made for uneasy listening.

But more importantly, it offered further signs of what post-Brexit deal the Conservatives will attempt to strike. Boris Johnson, the frontrunner for the Conservative leadership, set out the deal he wants in his Telegraph column: British access to the single market, free movement of British workers within the European Union but border control for workers from the EU within Britain.

There is no chance of that deal – in fact, reading Johnson’s Telegraph column called to mind the exasperated response that Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal and a supporter of a Remain vote, gave upon hearing that one of his players wanted to move to Real Madrid: “It's like you wanting to marry Miss World and she doesn't want you, what can I do about it? I can try to help you, but if she does not want to marry you what can I do?”

But Osborne, who has yet to rule out a bid for the top job and confirmed his intention to serve in the post-Cameron government, hinted at the deal that seems most likely – or, at least, the most optimistic: one that keeps Britain in the single market and therefore protects Britain’s financial services and manufacturing sectors.

For the Conservatives, you can see how such a deal might not prove electorally disastrous – it would allow them to maintain the idea with its own voters that they had voted for greater “sovereignty” while maintaining their easy continental holidays, au pairs and access to the Erasmus scheme.  They might be able to secure a few votes from relieved supporters of Remain who backed the Liberal Democrats or Labour at the last election – but, in any case, you can see how a deal of that kind would be sellable to their coalition of the vote. For Johnson, further disillusionment and anger among the voters of Sunderland, Hull and so on are a price that a Tory government can happily pay – and indeed, has, during both of the Conservatives’ recent long stays in government from 1951 to 1964 and from 1979 to 1997.

It feels unlikely that it will be a price that those Labour voters who backed a Leave vote – or the ethnic and social minorities that may take the blame – can happily pay.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.