A.P. Schrader says the Falklands referendum was a message to those in London considering negotiation with Argentina.
A few days ago a referendum was held on the Falkland Islands on the question of whether or not the islanders wished their South Atlantic archipelago to remain a British Overseas Territory. The outcome was a predictably massive 99.8 per cent of the Falklands’ 1,672 eligible voters casting their vote in favour of maintaining their allegiance to the British Crown (on a 92 per cent turnout). In total, just three votes were cast against.
The outcome of the referendum came as a surprise to no-one, not least the belligerent Argentine President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. She immediately dismissed the result as mere ‘parody’ and denounced the Falkland islanders as ‘squatters’. But the referendum was never really for the benefit of President Kirchner. She thinks she is a cross between Eva Perón and General Galtieri and nothing is going to penetrate her thick layer of hubris. Nor was it intended to convince anyone else in Buenos Aires, even if the referendum was partly prompted by comments made by the Argentine Defence Minister, Arturo Puricelli, who called the islanders ‘hostages’. Rather, the referendum was directed squarely at London and at Washington DC.
There has long been a suspicion that many figures in Westminster would like to negotiate away the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, and not just from the Guardian-reading ‘usual suspects’. In the run-up to the 1982 War, it was a Tory minister, Nicholas Ridley, who proposed a solution called ‘lease-back’, which was approved of by the Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington. Indeed, Lord Carrington summed up British policy regarding the islands as one of ‘neglect and hoping for the best’ and that a settlement with Argentina was ‘to the advantage of everybody’. Fate ultimately intervened in the form of the Argentine invasion. Lord Carrington fell on his sword and Margaret Thatcher dispatched a Royal Navy task-force to recapture the Falklands.
The Falklands War may have secured Mrs Thatcher the subsequent General Election (prompting her Labour predecessor, Jim Callaghan, to remark ‘I wish I’d had a war’), but it only temporarily reduced the murmurings in Whitehall in favour of a negotiated settlement. This idea resurfaced most recently when Tony Blair was Prime Minister – whisperings about a possible deal that quickly had to be stamped out once the conservative press got a hold of it. I suspect, however, that a predisposition to divest the United Kingdom of responsibility for the Falkland Islands permeates the Foreign Office, with mandarins keenly awaiting the receptive ears of new ministers. While these pro-negotiation partisans may find more fertile soil for their seeds of discord among Labour politicians, it would be a mistake to assume they have no audience within the Tory Party.
For the time being, however, the current Tory leadership are making the right noises. The Falklands are a potent Thatcherite totem, as well as an issue of national pride and military reverence for the fallen of the ‘82 conflict. Any talk of negotiating away the islands to ‘the Argies’ remains reassuringly taboo. David Cameron has remained staunch in his defence of the islands and called upon Argentina to respect the result of the referendum (a forlorn hope).
The other intended recipient of the strong message the islanders have sent was, as I say, the United States. Our American cousins have long been on the wrong side of this debate and even the most passionate Atlanticist would admit the US stance on the Falklands, dating back to the Reagan Administration, has been, frankly, insulting to the Anglo-American so-called ‘Special Relationship’. The reaction of the US State Department to the referendum result was disappointing to say the least. Their spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, recognised the Falklands had ‘clearly expressed their preference for a continued relationship with the United Kingdom’ but went on to say that the US ‘recognise that there are competing claims’. This failure to defend the basic principle of the Right to Self-Determination, enshrined in the UN Charter, is all the more depressing when one considers that Americans regularly tell us the most eloquent expression of that principle was delivered in Philadelphia in 1776. It is a sorry state of affairs indeed, then, that a great superpower and self-proclaimed bastion of democracy, who arrogantly bestow upon their Head of State the sobriquet ‘Leader of the Free World’, choose to completely ignore the clearly-expressed democratic wishes of the people who live on the Falkland islands and instead continue to suck up to a tin-pot Latin American bully like Argentina.
The Argentines dress up their sovereignty claim as opposition to British ‘colonialism’ but what could be more ‘colonialist’ than seeking to impose your will over people and their homes to whom you have no legitimate claim? The Falklands have never had territorial integrity with Argentina. There was never any ‘indigenous’ population that was ‘displaced’ (contrary to Argentine claims). Many of the islands’ so-called ‘implanted’ population can actually trace their ancestry back on the islands nine generations or more. Not to mention the fact that the Falkland Islands have been British since before there was even an Argentina and that the Argentines themselves recognised British sovereignty over the islands more than 160 years ago.
It really is time for the Americans to get with the programme and recognise not only that the Argentine claims to the Falkland Islands are spurious, at best, and, at worst, a generations-old cynical ploy by successive Argentine leaders (usually military dictators or Leftist demagogues) to bamboozle and distract the Argentine people from what is invariably the latest economic quagmire they have led them into (as it certainly the case with President Kirchner) but, moreover, that ridiculous calls for the British to ‘negotiate’ with the Argentines are a nonsense. The basic fact here is, regardless of the attitude of certain Foreign Office mandarins, the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands is not ours to negotiate away. It is a decision for the islanders themselves and nobody else. This referendum result puts beyond doubt the clearly-expressed will of the islanders and Britain’s ongoing moral duty to protect them from bellicose Argentine aggression and defend their fundamental right to determine their own future.
One might have thought that the ‘Leaders of the Free World’ would support us rather than pay lip-service to illegitimate Argentine pretentions.