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The Labour Party's rise to power in the United Kingdom would, a priori, bode well for the thorny issue of Chagos. Especially since some leaders of the new British majority have, in the past, expressed themselves in favour of the retrocession of the archipelago to Mauritius.

Will the great victory of the Labour Party in the British general elections on 4 July be beneficial to Mauritius on the Chagos issue? The Mauritian government is suggesting that the new government be allowed to settle in before putting the issue back on the negotiating table. However, in view of the positions of certain Labour leaders, it is hoped that an agreement can be reached sooner or later.

As a reminder, under the Conservative government, the government saw the issue of returning the archipelago to the Mauritian portfolio being pushed back multiple times under the cover of negotiations that dragged on.

Negotiations had been reopened in 2022. These suggested the good faith of the British on the issue. On April 29, Rishi Sunak, then Prime Minister, was to give hope that an agreement was still possible. A statement issued by 10 Downing Street on April 29 was to indicate that Pravind Jugnauth, Prime Minister of Mauritius, and Rishi Sunak “discussed the progress made in the negotiations between the United Kingdom and Mauritius concerning the exercise of sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory/Chagos Archipelago. The two leaders reiterated their commitment to a mutually beneficial outcome and asked their teams to continue to work expeditiously. They look forward to speaking again soon.” At the time, Rishi Sunak had not yet announced the elections.

Could the ruling British Labour Party break the deadlock? “We are hopeful that things can move in the right direction and that we could finally conclude a deal. The talks will probably resume where the Conservatives left off. At the Mauritius level, we are not changing anything in our demands and conditions. Our position remains the same regarding the Diego Garcia military base, for which we are ready to offer a very long-term lease for a rent,” they confided in the Prime Minister's Office.

Different point of view

The proof that the British Labour Party has a different point of view on the archipelago is the commitment made by Jeremy Corbyn during the electoral campaign for the elections of December 12, 2019. Then leader of the British Labour Party, he had committed to returning the Chagos Islands to Mauritius if he managed to become Prime Minister.

Questioned at the time by the English press on the decision of the International Court of Justice, which had ordered the return of the Chagos to Mauritius within six months – a deadline which expired on November 22, 2019 – Jeremy Corbyn had declared that he was totally in favor of a retrocession.
“I have been involved in the Chagos campaign for a very long time. What has happened to the people of the Chagos Islands is absolutely shameful. [Ils ont été] forcibly expelled from their own islands, unfortunately, by this country. The right of return to these islands is absolutely important as a symbol of how we want to behave in international law. So yes, we will achieve that,” he said at the time. This view was, at that time, espoused by his party.

And the position does not seem to have changed among Labour. On 10 July, David Lammy, the brand new British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, equivalent to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Mauritius, who was then an opposition MP, made a formal commitment that Mauritius hopes will be respected.

In a speech at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, he was to state that “for years the government has ignored the advice of the International Court of Justice, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the UN General Assembly regarding the Chagos Islands. It is only belatedly that the government has sought what we have long called for: a new settlement that brings the UK into compliance with international law, redresses the historic injustice done to the Chagossians, maintains the protected marine environment around the islands and addresses strategic security concerns.”

He added that “a central principle that will underpin the foreign policy of the next Labour government is unwavering respect for the rule of law, both in domestic and international law.”

The new British Prime Minister, Keir Starmer, is, for his part, a friend of Mauritius. In 2013, the latter, who was then Director of Public Prosecutions of the United Kingdom, met the then Prime Minister, Navin Ramgoolam. Keir Starmer was in Mauritius to deliver a speech as part of an event in honor of the former Chief Justice Rajsoomer Lallah. Navin Ramgoolam recalled this on his Facebook page on Friday, while congratulating him on his victory.

In his congratulations, Pravind Jugnauth, for his part, reminded Keir Starmer that “Mauritius and the United Kingdom share common values ​​and principles” and hopes that the two countries “will further strengthen their historical ties”.

As for Jeremy Corbyn, he is no longer a member of Labour, but was re-elected as an independent MP and will undoubtedly put pressure on the government on the Chagos issue.

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