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Image: Shutterstock / Joe Kuis
Image: Shutterstock / Joe Kuis

Maintaining British national interests must be our top priority

Everyone following the ongoing negotiations surrounding the sovereignty of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) should be sounding the alarm. As it may be remembered from my recent inquiry during the 1922 Committee session, addressing the implications from these negotiations are crucial for British national interests.

The central issue pertains to the transfer of sovereignty over the BIOT to Mauritius. While I fully recognize the importance of safeguarding our sovereign military base on Diego Garcia, I am apprehensive about the proposed compromise. Specifically, the government’s willingness to cede control of the other 57 islands within the archipelago raises significant questions about our strategic position.

Having personally visited the islands in 2019, I witnessed first-hand the formidable naval and air force installations that play a pivotal role in our defence. These facilities are not only essential for our national security but also serve as a cornerstone of our recently established Naval Defence Agreement with the US and Australia under the AUKUS framework.

However, beyond immediate military considerations, there is a broader principle at stake: self-determination. This fundamental concept underpins our relationship with each of the British Overseas Territories (BOTs). It is the glue that binds our diverse interests together, granting us a unique global footprint that distinguishes us from other European nations.

We must carefully weigh the implications of any decisions related to the BIOT. Our commitment to self-determination, coupled with the strategic significance of Diego Garcia, necessitates a thorough and thoughtful approach. As representatives of our nation, we must ensure that our actions align with our core values and long-term interests.

We must carefully weigh the implications of any decisions related to the BIOT Quote

Regrettably, in the case of the BIOT, we appear to be setting aside fundamental rights and negotiating over the heads of indigenous populations, the very people we displaced in 1968 to make way for the base. As a member of the APPG for the BIOT, I have engaged with Chagossians from various parts of the UK. Their unwavering determination to remain British, despite hardships, underscores the significance of self-determination. Moreover, they express valid concerns about the treatment of Chagossians who were expelled from the BIOT to Mauritius by the Mauritian government.

The Chagossians’ desire to return to their ancestral islands and participate in a national referendum to determine the fate of this archipelago is both compelling and just. Instead of acquiescing to Mauritius’ demands — a country geographically distant from these islands, with no cultural or historical ties — we should actively facilitate their return.

By disregarding this fundamental principle, we risk compromising not only our sovereignty but also the integrity of our position across the other BOTs. Our commitment to self-determination must remain unwavering.

It is imperative to draw attention in particular to the case of the outer island of Peros Banhos. My recent voyage to this remote region underscored its immense potential in both economic and security terms.

The journey from Diego Garcia to Peros Banhos, undertaken via overnight sailing, revealed the vast expanse of this territory. Within its boundaries, we have established the world’s largest maritime protection zones — an area twice the size of the United Kingdom. This expansive zone not only safeguards critical marine ecosystems but also serves as a crucial buffer for national security interests.

Mauritius, too, recognizes the significance of the BIOT. However, there is a delicate balance to strike. While we must engage in constructive dialogue with Mauritius, we must also remain resolute in protecting our sovereign rights over the Chagos Archipelago while maintaining stability and security.

We also bear the responsibility of upholding the principles of international law. The right of self-determination, which resonates across our global network of British Overseas Territories, remains a guiding force.

In light of these considerations, we must continue advocating for the preservation of British sovereignty over the BIOT. Our actions today will shape the future for generations to come.

It is imperative that we engage directly with representatives of the Chagossian community to listen to their concerns and support their requests. By doing so, we can ensure a more informed and empathetic approach to addressing the complex issues surrounding the BIOT.

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Daniel Kawczynski is the Conservative MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham and a member of the British Indian Ocean Territory APPG.

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