In light of Jeremy Corbyn’s comments over the Falkland Islands recently, I thought I would discuss the topic that continues to grow in significance, the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.
The Falklands were first inhabited by the French in 1764. Since, they have been under British, Argentine, Spanish, American AND French control at any one time. Since 1834, with the exception of the period of 1982 where the Arengtines inhabited the Falklands in the Falklands War, the Falklands have been British. And yet, its only Argentina who say they have a claim to the Falklands. Spain, France and America don’t. They don’t have a valid claim other than at one point a VERY long time ago, they controlled the Falklands.
But a key Argentine claim to the Falklands is geography. Roughly 300 miles separate the Falklands and Argentina. Just over 8000 miles separate the Falklands and the UK. Now, Alaska is part of the United States of America. It may be a considerable distance away from America. But it’s still part of America. Giving the Falkland Islands to Argentina makes about as much sense as America giving Alaska to Canada: none whatsoever. Yes, geographically, Canada is closer to Alaska than America is. But the people who live in Alaska are American. That is what they want and the Canadians accept that. This is exactly the same as the fact that the people of the Falkland islands want the “Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom”. That quote is taken from the Falkland Islands sovereignty referendum which took place in 2013. The results from it are overwhelming: 99.8% of the population with to remain part of the UK. Just 3 voters voted against and having spoken to some Islanders when I visited the Falklands a few years ago, it is thought that these were people who got confused by the motion. On the plus side, the 3 no votes gave the referendum credibility. It would have been very suspicious to have seen 100% in favour.
In 1983, Falkland Islanders were granted full British Citizenship by the then Prime Minister Margret Thatcher. However, from the Argentine perspective, the Islanders are Argentine citizens and may request an Argentine birth certificate and Passport if they want to. Unsurprisingly, not one request has been made. Futhering to this, in 2013, the Argentine Foreign minister, Hector Timerman, claimed that the Falkland Islanders “do not exist” as such! Instead, they are British citizens in disputed territory. Officially, those who live there are British citizens. However, in the most recent census, 57% of people declared their nationality to be Falkland Islander, 24% said they were British, 9.8% St. Helenian and 5.3% Chilean.
The odd thing is the fact that Falkland Islands and Brits are separately classified. Whats the difference? Having visited the Falklands, I don’t really know. Everyone looks British. Everyone speaks English. Everyone is very British. Lewis Clifton, Speaker of the Falklands Legislative Council, describes the Islanders as having “British cultural, economic, social, political and educational values [which] create a unique British-like, Falkland Islands”. This is because about 70% of the Islanders are from British descent.
I keep coming back to the idea of self determination and how the islanders’ overwhelming desire to be British as shown in the referendum must have a veto over any talks that take place between the UK and Argentina over their sovereignty. But, the Argentines believe that the principle of self-determination is not applicable because the current inhabitants are not aboriginal and were brought to replace the Argentine population in 1833-34. However, the right to self determination is a universal international right and is therefore relevant to the islanders. Moving away from the legal aspect to the moral aspect; do the Argentines really believe that they have the right to a country whose population doesn’t want to be Argentine. That is immoral. Furthermore, it’s not fair on the Islanders. There they are, 8,000 miles away, and Jeremy Corbyn is suggesting that we need to negotioate with Argentina! Chair of the Falklands’ Legislative Assembly, Mike Summers declared “It is time Mr Corbyn took up our offer to give him a proper briefing on the Falklands which might aid his understanding of both our politics and our geography” They, the people, in a democratic fashion have voted. And they have shown that they want to be British. Why is that not enough for Corbyn? He says that “the islanders have an enormous say”. The only say in the matter should be that they want to be British and so we should defend their wishes. Democracy isn’t the leader of the opposition playing down the significance of a referendum!
So, what is to be done? Since 1982, the British have maintained a permanent military presence on the islands, compromising of around 1,100 personal, 4 Typhoon fast jets along with other aircraft. The Royal Navy maintains a presence in the area. If Argentina wants the Falklands, it would be extremely difficult to take control using military power. The concept of negotiations or “sensible dialogue” as Corbyn puts it between Argentina and the UK, would be the only conceivable way. One MP is not enough however enough to drive negotiations and it seems Corbyn faces opposition from within his own party over his views. Indeed not a single MP has spoken out supporting Corbyn over the matter. Labour MP John Woodcock, has been previously critical in regard to Corbyn’s suggestion of having submarines without nuclear warheads by saying:
“Having a deterrent that has no ability to deter because it has no missiles is like having an army with broke rifles and no ammunition”
In regard to Corbyn’s comments over the Falklands, he tweeted:
So, the prospect of negotiations seems unlikely. And even though the newly elected president of Argentina Mauricio Macri has vowed to continue their claim to the Falklands, just as his predecessor Cristina Fernández de Kirchner did, it seems the Falklands will remain a British overseas territory.