The political backdrop in the 1960’s was, for Britain, the end of a slow and prolonged withdrawal from empire. Colonialism was disappearing fast, in all corners of the globe.
But Britain then created a new colony called the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).
What was Britain’s motive?
In December 1966, Britain signed a defence deal with the United States, which gave Diego Garcia for defence purposes for 50 years, with an option on a further 20 years. The deal was hidden from Parliament and attracted virtually no publicity.
The US Pentagon had selected Diego Garcia as being the ideal place from which to monitor the activities of the Soviet Navy. In 1972 a further agreement was signed between the US and British governments to establish a communications facility on Diego Garcia; another agreement in 1974 provided for a support facility, whilst in 1976 an ‘exchange of notes’ took place to allow for extending the runway - an 8,000 foot runway had by then already been constructed. Thus the island of Diego Garcia was gradually turned into a military base.
The Americans made it clear from the outset of negotiations that they would not tolerate any indigenous population inhabiting the Chagos islands while under US use.
This left the British with something of a problem – namely the 2,000+ community of Chagossians who already lived there. The British Foreign Office’s solution to this was to build and ‘maintain the fiction’ that the people of Chagos were merely migrant workers from the Seychelles and Mauritius, on contracts and with no rights as permanent domiciles.
This stance was strengthened and deepened through a consistent exchange of official memos and letters over the next few years, successfully hiding the truth from the UN, British Parliament and even US officials.