‘In the same year, a secret British-American conference was held in London. In the chilling words of official jargon, the islands “were closed” and, in an exchange of letters never shown to either Parliament or the US Congress, a defence agreement was signed leasing the Chagos Islands to the US for 50 years with the option of an extra 20-year extension. The deal was struck on the understanding that the entire island chain was “fully sanitised” and “cleansed” of life. In exchange, Britain would receive an $11million subsidy on the US’s Polaris submarine nuclear deterrent.
But there was a problem: the UK had overlooked the existence of the native population of about 1,800 Chagosian people, mainly descendents of slaves, living on the islands. And, as members of an overseas territory, they were British nationals. Yet it was vital for the British government, in its own words, “to maintain the pretence there were no permanent inhabitants” on the islands. This was because permanent residents would need to be recognised as people with democratic rights. So the islanders effectively became non-people.’