A number of documents related to Britain’s past colonial adventures have been released. The extent of conspiratorial activity that they detail is yet another answer to people who reflexively sneer at those who claim to diagnose such behaviour. The most sensitive documents haven’t even been exposed. They were destroyed long ago. Some of the papers that have survived relate to a historical injustice I’ve explored before: the theft of the Chagos Islands from its natives…

The aim behind the decision to control the islands, noted a Foreign Office official in a document dated September 1966 and marked “Secret and Guard”, was to build “defence facilities … without hindrance or political agitation”.

In 1970, the Foreign Office told its officials at the UN to describe the islanders as “contract labourers” engaged to work on coconut plantations. “The merit of this line,” it noted, “is that it does not give away the existence of the Ilois [the indigenous islanders] but is at the same time strictly factual.”

Officials reported the prime minister, Ted Heath, as saying: “Any discussions between the United States and ourselves must remain confidential.”

A year later, most of the islanders – about 1,500 in total, of whom 500 lived on Diego Garcia – were deported, mainly to Mauritius and Seychelles.

I say historical injustice. It is, in fact, both that and a contemporary one. Time and again the Ilois have been stopped from returning

Governments have stubbornly refused, and snidely ignored, their e’er more desperate pleas to be allowed to return home. They’re covering for the Yanks, who use the islands as a base at which to stockpile weapons and refuel “rendition” flights, and as a would-be launching pad for attacks against Iran. (It’s also used by surfers, who’ve proclaimed that it’s “home to some of the best surf on the planet”. Enjoy those waves, dudes!)

The Empire may have collapsed but imperialism is still absolutely relevant.

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