Africa, Defense, Europe, New in Lobbying

Ex-US ambassador lobbies UK to decolonize Diego Garcia

A new US lobbying filing reveals fresh details about the growing international pressure campaign on the United Kingdom to abandon its control over an Indian Ocean archipelago that is home to a secretive US Navy base.

The east African nation of Mauritius hired former US ambassador to Germany Richard Burt and his Washington advocacy firm McLarty Inbound last year for $35,000 per month to help Mauritius gain sovereignty over the Chagos archipelago, a group of 60 tropical islands including Diego Garcia. The United States has leased Diego Garcia from Britain since 1966 in a secret deal signed after the British separated the Chagos islands ahead of Mauritius’ looming independence and exiled its inhabitants. The lease was extended in 2016 for another 20 years, until 2036.

That decades-old agreement is now in jeopardy after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague issued an advisory opining in February 2019 urging an end to British control over the territory.

“The Court finds that the process of decolonization of Mauritius was not lawfully completed when that country acceded to independence,” the ICJ said, “and that the United Kingdom is under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible.”

The British government does not recognize Mauritius’ claim of sovereignty over the islands and says western military bases there are vital for security in the remote region. “The defense facilities on the British Indian Ocean Territory help to protect people here in Britain and around the world from terrorist threats, organized crime and piracy,” a Foreign Office representative told CNN last year. If the British do cede control, the US would have to renegotiate the lease for Diego Garcia with Mauritius.

Burt and fellow lobbyist Frances Burwell were retained by Mauritius’ UN delegation three months after the ICJ opinion “to promote the foreign principal’s objective to exercise its sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago and to have such sovereignty recognized by other governments.” The pair have since been lobbying British lawmakers and think tank leaders, according to a lobbying filing for the six months through May 29. The filing is particularly interesting as it sheds light on lobbying efforts in the United Kingdom, which does not share the United States’ relatively strong lobbying disclosure requirements.

Burt and Burwell notably disclosed meeting with conservative Member of Parliament Tobias Ellwood on Jan. 29, the same day that Ellwood was elected chairman of parliament’s Defense Committee. That same day, the pair also met with John Chipman, the CEO of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, and David Snoxell, the executive director of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group (Snoxell, a former British high commissioner to Mauritius, has warned that Britain could lose its permanent seat on the UN Security Council if it continues “in breach of human rights and the rule of law.”).

The next day, Burt participated in a Chatham House panel and met with Menzies Campbell, a member of the House of Lords, and Malcolm Chalmers, the deputy director general of the Royal United Services Institute think tank. That same day, he also disclosed speaking with Lord Richard Luce, the chairman of the Chagos All-Party Parliamentary Group, on the phone.

On Jan. 31, the lobbyists disclosed meeting with Philippe Sands, a prominent international lawyer who argued Mauritius’ case at the International Court of Justice in 2018. Lastly, the lobbyists met with former British Ambassador to the US Peter Westmacott on Feb. 22.

The meetings come as both the UK and the US are increasingly isolated on the issue.

The day after Mauritius hired McLarty Inbound, the UN General Assembly passed a nonbinding resolution calling for the British to withdraw its “colonial administration” of the islands within six months. The United States was one of just six countries that voted no.