Britain has been pushed into a hearing at The Hague over a notable territorial dispute, after a number of EU nations refused to back up the UK.
Countries including France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Belgium, abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution sought by Mauritius, raising an advisory opinion from the International Courts of Justice on the Chagos Islands.
The UK declares its sovereignty over the archipelago; while the island occupants persists the rule is illegal and are seeking decolonization.
Ultimately, the resolution was carried by a vote of 94 to 15 with 65 voting to abstain. Only some of the EU nations backed Britain at the UN general assembly, which were Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary and Lithuania.
The Chagos Islands, which Britain refers to as the British Indian Ocean Territory, were separated from the rest of Mauritius by the UK in 1965.
Some 1,500 islanders were evicted in 1968 to 1971 to make way for a US airbase on Diego Garcia Island and; was also used as a base by the CIA following the September 11 attack in the year 2001.
The decision not to vote by many EU countries’ usual allies will certainly be seen as evidence of the intensifying divide caused by Britain’s decision to leave the union.
Now the Hague will be asked to put forward its own, non-binding opinion on the dispute as Mauritius asserts the separation of the islands from the rest of the colony was a breach of international law.
Matthew Rycroft, Britain’s permanent representative to the UN, had warned the general assembly that the vote could set a precedent that many may “come to regret.”
Rycroft also arguing that a state could only be brought before the Hague with its own consent, and that the advisory opinions was an attempt by Mauritius to “circumvent the principle.”
A lease for the airbase is in effect until 2036, but he restated the UK’s pledge to return the islands to Mauritius once they were no longer required for military purposes.
Jagdish Koonjul, the representative of Mauritius to the UN, said after the vote: “I’m elated. The results are beyond my expectations.”
“It’s interesting that the EU didn’t support the UK. Even some of the countries that supported the UK agreed that this was an issue of decolonization.”
A group of Chagos Islanders in 2007 won their right to return to their home in a High Court battle, assisted by then-Labour backbencher Jeremy Corbyn. However, that decision was keeled over by House of Lords judges after an appeal by the then-Labour government.
In 2015 a UN tribunal established it was illegal for the UK when it established a marine protection zone and banned fishing in1965 and 2010.
The vote is damaging to the UK’s claims of possession over the islands, preceding a constant court battle between exiled islanders and the government.