The Chagos file has been put on hold by the British government. And, given the circumstances, the chances are slim of reaching an agreement with Mauritius before the Mauritian general elections.

After the announcement by the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, on Wednesday May 22, concerning the holding of early general elections in the United Kingdom on July 4, the Mauritian government finds itself in a waiting position vis-à-vis the Chagos file. Due to the launch of the electoral campaign, discussions between the British and Mauritian authorities were suspended. Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth and his government, who hoped to reach an agreement in the following weeks after the opening of negotiations in 2022, must now wait.

“Now that the general election has been declared in England, the election campaign is in full swing. In these circumstances, it is simply impossible for Rishi Sunak's government to take a decision as important as the handover of the Chagos Archipelago to Mauritius,” confides a source close to the matter at the Prime Minister's Office.

However, as recently as April 29, Rishi Sunak gave hope that an agreement was still possible. And this, within a time frame which would have allowed Pravind Jugnauth to face the Mauritian general elections with Chagos as a feat of arms and compensation/rental of more than Rs 100 billion from the United Kingdom for long-term rental term of the American-British military base on Diego Garcia.

Extract from the communiqué issued by 10 Downing Street on April 29: “They discussed the progress made in the negotiations between the United Kingdom and Mauritius regarding the exercise of sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory/the Chagos Archipelago. Both leaders reiterated their commitment to a mutually beneficial outcome and asked their teams to continue working quickly. They look forward to being able to speak again soon.” But that was before the announcement that general elections would be held in Great Britain.

At the Mauritian level, patience is running out. A week earlier, on May 18, Pravind Jugnauth had affirmed that his patience had limits regarding the right for Mauritius to exercise its sovereignty over the archipelago. He was to accuse the United Kingdom of ignoring the “rule of law” and “respecting the resolutions of the United Nations and international courts which fully recognize the sovereignty of Mauritius over Chagos”. “Lalit pou kontinie, ariv seki ariv,” added the head of government during a ceremony organized by the All Vaish Parivar Federation, in Sevastopol, as part of the Annual Vaish Divas.

However, another point complicates the situation. The polls do not show the Conservatives, the party which leads the current British government, as winners. For several months, they have given Labor approximately 45% of voting intentions against the Conservatives, who are between 20 and 25%, while the far-right party, Reform UK, is at 12%.

All is not lost, however. The British Labor Party, if it wins the election, could make a quick decision on Chagos. Moreover, during the electoral campaign for the elections of December 12, 2019, Jeremy Corbyn, then leader of the British Labor Party, committed to returning the Chagos Islands to Mauritius. Asked at the time by journalists about the decision of the International Court of Justice, which had ordered the return of Chagos to Mauritius within six months – a deadline which expired on November 22, 2019 – Jeremy Corbyn declared that he was completely in favour.

“I have been involved in the Chagos campaign for a very long time. What 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 wish to behave under international law. So yes, we will make it happen,” he then declared.

But, if Labor wins the British general election, and even if they are in favor of the handover, conditions and therefore new negotiations will be necessary. We will then leave for several rounds of discussions.

Little hope therefore that an agreement can be concluded before the general elections in Mauritius.

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