“Government to drop case against Chagos Islanders”, proclaimed the website of the UK Chagos Support Association. Phones rang, BlackBerrys beeped and emails pinged into inboxes as jubilant campaigners, some of whom had worked on the issue for decades, received the news. The New Statesman had published a letter from Vince Cable to a constituent, stating that “The Coalition Government are dropping the case [against those expelled from the Chagos archipelago by Harold Wilson’s government] opting instead for a friendly settlement”.
But no sooner had the Chagos lobby began to celebrate than Cable’s department asked for the NS article to be pulled because the letter had been “issued in error”. Despite the sympathetic rhetoric from Tories and Liberal Democrats when in opposition, a Foreign Office spokesperson has since confirmed that the Coalition will continue to deny the Chagossians their rights:
“The Government will continue to contest the case brought by the Chagos Islanders to the European Court of Human Rights. This is because the arguments against allowing resettlement on the grounds of defence security and feasibility are clear and compelling. And we do not see the case for paying further compensation as this has already been paid in full and final settlement of all claims.”
The letter was yet another false dawn for those expelled from their homeland at the barrel of a (British) gun and saw Cable’s department attempting to lay the blame for the gaffe squarely on a “junior researcher” in his constituency office. When Scrapbook drew attention to the salutation, however, his aides conceded that the letter had in fact been signed by Cable himself:
The confusion around the drafting of the document had left the deflated Chagossians scratching their heads. As a signatory to a petition sent to then Foreign Secretary David Miliband only six months ago, Cable is on record as supporting the islanders’ case. In contrast with a copy-and-paste regurgitation of previous Lib Dem policy, the letter was clearly drafted by someone familiar with the case and after the formation of the coalition government. One campaigner told Scrapbook:
“To attempt to blame this on a researcher is plain shabby. The effect of his letter was to raise and then cruelly dash the hopes of the Chagossians. However this mistake was made, he signed the letter and should apologise for the hurt it has caused.”
One hopes that Dr. Vincent will bother to read what he is signing in future. Should the Business Secretary get a reputation for this kind of carelessness, lobby groups will be queueing round the block on Victoria Street:
Want something signing into law? Simply stick it under Vince Cable’s nose!
Those with an interest in the case of the Chagossians could do worse than watch John Pilger’s documentary Stealing a Nation, which is available for free on Google Video.