In the 1982 Falkland Islands war, 255 British troops and 650 Argentinean troops died. As the 30th anniversary approaches, and Prince William prepares to be deployed there as a search and rescue pilot, tensions are rising. Tomorrow, Parliament will be debating the future of the Falkland Islands. All would agree that there is no such thing as a good war. But in 1982, people died because politics, governments and individual leaders failed them. It is our job in the House of Commons to make sure this does not happen again.
My hope is that tomorrow’s parliamentary debate will reiterate this House’s united position that the Falkland Islands have our full support in every way. The government is presently considering its Overseas Territories White Paper: I would like to see it introduce a self determination law, confirming that all overseas territories, of which there are 14, including the Falklands, have an unambiguous right to remain British until such time as they choose not to.
This issue of a people’s inherent right to self determination is at the heart of this debate. The 3000 inhabitants of the Falklands unanimously want to remain a British Dependent Territory. It is not even up to us give the Falklands away. Argentina’s dubious historical claim to sovereignty would amount to annexation by “negotiation” or conquest: this is colonisation and occupation by another means. Many of the islanders trace their ancestry back to the 1840s. These are men and women, who were born on the Falklands, have lived there generations, had children, and made their lives there.
Like most countries, including Argentina, the Falklands constitute a nation of immigrants who have developed a distinctive culture and identity. For Argentina to deny the Islanders' right to self-determination is to question Argentina’s own claim to the same right. Are the Argentinian people going to hand their land back to the Indian tribes who lived in their country before they arrived? I doubt it. 30 years on from the conflict, the Argentines continue to claim sovereignty of the Islands, notwithstanding a very dubious historical basis prior to 1833. The Argentinian President has continued and worsened a trade blockade: she has taken the slightly unbelievable step of blocking ships flying the Falkland flag from Argentine ports and persuaded most of the other members of the South American trading bloc, which also includes Brazil and Uruguay, to do the same.
The enhanced blockade – for which there is no justification – was made in December of last year: it will undoubtedly damage the local economy of the Falklands. The blockade certainly does not endear the Argentines to the Islanders. It is contrary to international law and is a protectionist retrograde step. Are we really going down a route in 2012 when civilised countries are blocking free trade? The government needs to end this trade blockade. Argentina and Great Britain should be friends, encouraging trade, tourism and the end of blockades. Doing so is far more likely to lead to a satisfactory outcome than the current policy of threats, blockades and sabre-rattling. The Falkland Islands choose to remain British – and so they shall. That position, and their choice in the matter, is non-negotiable.