Apologize for ‘mistakes’ of empire, Thornberry urges May ahead of Commonwealth summit
Labour MP Emily Thornberry has called on the Tory leader to apologize to the 53 Commonwealth member states for Britain’s “historic mistakes” during its colonial period. It comes ahead of a Commonwealth summit being held in London later this month.
“This week would be an appropriate moment to correct that historic mistake, and would send a wider signal to our Commonwealth cousins that we in the UK truly recognize that the days are gone when our union was described – in colonial terms – as the ‘British Commonwealth’,” she wrote in the House magazine.
“This great institution does not exist for the benefit of Britain, and even less simply to make up for the post-Brexit hole in our trading balance sheet. It exists for the collective benefit of all its members, and the wider benefit of the world.”
Thornberry said May must acknowledge former PM Margaret Thatcher’s failure to heed calls by other Commonwealth members to impose sanctions on South Africa during the apartheid regime. She said May should also apologize over the treatment of people on the Chagos Islands in 1971. Most of the territory’s 1,500 inhabitants were deported so that its largest island, Diego Garcia, could be leased to the US for an airbase.
“That is how I would urge the prime minister to approach this summit, and – in that same spirit – I would like her to start it by saying sorry to the other heads of government not just for the wrong done to the Chagos Islanders, but for the actions of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s,” the member of parliament for Islington South and Finsbury said.
“Back then, it was nothing less than our duty to take part in collective action against South Africa, and heed the urgent calls from our Commonwealth partners for the unified imposition of sanctions. But instead, the Thatcher government dismissed them.”
Thornberry said that while former PM David Cameron had personally apologized to former South African President Nelson Mandela, that “did not go far enough.”
“I believe Theresa May and the Conservative government in Britain also owe an apology to the Commonwealth as a whole – and indeed Her Majesty The Queen – for ignoring the efforts of every other member 30 years ago to bring apartheid to an end.”
Britain is facing accusations of failing Commonwealth migrants as reports emerge of Caribbean expatriates who came to the UK as children before 1971 now being made “stateless and destitute” due to May’s hostile environment policies.
Because of toughened immigration policies, people who moved to the UK between 1948 and 1973 with the ‘windrush’ are now being denied access to the NHS, losing their jobs and risk being forcibly removed.
High-profile figures, including the high commissioner for Barbados to the UK, the first black bishop in the Church of England and Labour MP David Lammy, are urging the government to “affirm the rights of those who have lived here for decades.”
Guy Hewitt, the high commissioner for Barbados to the UK, said: “Being a product of the Commonwealth, London-born of Indian and Barbadian migrants to the UK, I am dismayed that this situation could even exist in the 21st century; that people who gave their all to Britain could be seemingly discarded so matter-of-factly.”
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