Henry Smith MP has spoken in the House of Commons today to introduce his British Indian Ocean Territory (Citizenship) Bill, which would make provision for individuals descended from the Chagos Islands to register as British overseas territory citizens.
In introducing this legislation, the Crawley MP is seeking for recognition of the fact that these citizens’ parents and grandparents were forcibly exiled from this UK Overseas Territory half a century ago, when the then-Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, gave an Order in Council to remove the inhabitants of the British Indian Ocean Territory so a UK/US military base could be established on the strategic island of Diego Garcia.
Speaking in Central Lobby after introducing his Bill, Henry said;
“I’m grateful to parliamentary colleagues across seven political parties represented in the House of Commons supporting my Bill.
“We can’t right the wrongs of UK governments of the past, but we can ease the burden which this country has placed on these Britons. We can provide assistance to those whose story is not recognised in the country which removed them from the place – a British territory – they call home.
“Successive British administrations have shown scant regard for the rights of the Chagossian people. This Bill is our chance for Parliament to send a clear message that elected representatives in the UK not only recognise the treatment of the Chagossian community, but that we want to help them.
“The dignity of the Chagossian community and their dedication in campaigning to have back what was taken from them is an inspiration. As has been the case when Parliament has discussed their plight previously, there was a large Chagossian contingent watching in the House of Commons public gallery.
“As Crawley MP it’s my privilege to represent in the Commons perhaps the largest Chagossian population in the world, who live in our town. Myself and colleagues on the Chagos All-Party Parliamentary Group, on which I serve as a Vice Chair, continue to believe that in the long-term, this community must be allowed the right to return to their homeland.
“For today, however, providing these Britons with British overseas territory citizenship is the right thing to do. If the population had not been evicted half a century ago, all born on the islands would already have British citizen status.”
The Crawley MP concluded his speech in the House of Commons by saying;
“Around the world, our great nation is known for its values, including the traditional sense of British fair play. I am a patriot and I love my country. We do have a proud history and, I believe, a bright future. But our nation’s treatment of the Chagossian people is a blight on our country’s conscience—one that we can start to put right by helping these Britons all to become British overseas territories citizens. I commend the Bill to the House.”