WikiLeaks, Princess Anne and Mauritius

The Princess Royal gets caught up in a political storm in Mauritius.

A strong message of disapproval was delivered yesterday to Princess Anne at the start of her four-day visit to Mauritius.

The princess is visiting the palm-fringed Indian Ocean island to commemorate the landing of the British army forces there 200 years ago, which led to the transfer of sovereignty to the UK from France.

However, in a major breach of diplomatic protocol, the prime minister of Mauritius, Dr Navin Ramgoolam, did not attend either the ceremony at the Bain-Boeuf public beach in the north of the island, or the reception held later at the British high commissioner's residence.

The Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation conspicuously omitted any video footage of the event on both its English or Hindi language news bulletins.


Why the snub? Well, Mauritius is not pleased about the UK's continued refusal to settle the long-standing dispute about the Chagos Archipelago, which was detached from its territory in 1965, in breach of international law before independence in 1968, and now forms the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

By contrast, France agreed this year to manage jointly with Mauritius another disputed territory in the Indian Ocean, the island of Tromelin. It only adds to the sense of grievance about the behaviour of the former colonial master.

The frustration felt in Mauritius about the use of Diego Garcia, the largest and southernmost island in the archipelago, by the US military, and the failure by successive British governments to allow the 700 or so surviving Chagos Islanders and their descendants to return to their homeland, despite pre-election promises by the current UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, boiled over at a ceremony to mark the "Special Day for the Commemoration of the Deportation of the Chagos Community" from their homeland at Quay C in Port Louis on 3 November.

Ramgoolam accused the former prime minister Gordon Brown and his foreign secretary, David Miliband, of bad faith for failing to keep a promise, made at the last Commonwealth Summit in Trinidad at the end of last year, to consult his government about the plan to turn the BIOT into the world's largest marine protected area (MPA). Instead, a unilateral announcement about the marine reserve was made by Miliband on 1 April.

"It is an odious act of provocation against Mauritius," declared Ramgoolam, adding that he was delighted that Miliband had lost the recent Labour leadership election.

The Mauritian leader also stated that he regarded the UK's "indifference" towards the suffering of the Chagossian exiles as a "crime against humanity". He said he had listened to the islanders' accounts of how they were forcibly removed from their homeland by the British authorities between 1968 and 1973 so that the US could build its military base, and "you cannot be insensitive".

"There are nuclear submarines and warships that are polluting the sea," said the prime minister. "They want to protect fish and the corals, which have become more important than human beings. They talk about human rights and their own court [the high court and the Court of Appeal] said that they do not even respect human rights. They are hypocrites."

Diplomatic hoo-ha

The Mauritian prime minister's uncharacteristically strong language caused astonishment among foreign diplomats on the island and in some parts of the Westminister village.

Nevertheless, Ramgoolam was right to highlight UK duplicity. In fact, the WikiLeaks disclosure on Chagos released yesterday shows how, at a meeting in May 2009, British Foreign and Commonwealth officials insisted on establishing the marine reserve as "the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands' former inhabitants and their descendants from resettling in the BIOT".

They calculated that the "environmental lobby is far more powerful than the Chagossians' advocates". And so, pressing the feel-good buttons of environmentalists – Greenpeace at al – by officials at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was deliberately used as a tactic to override the human rights of the Chagos Islanders. Cynical? You bet.

There is a further point. Princess Anne cannot claim that this diplomatic spat has nothing to do with the royal family. After all, it was her mother who signed the order in council detaching the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius, establishing the British Indian Ocean Territory, and another order in 2004, on Jack Straw's watch, banning the Chagos Islanders from returning to their homeland.

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

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.