The basic argument between the Falkland Islands and Argentina “begins and ends with self determination”, underlined Martin Longden Deputy Director of Overseas Territories in an interview with Tony Curran published in the Falklands’ weekly Penguin News.
“People have a right to choose the kind of government that they want and I’m increasingly confident that that point of view and that principle is becoming ever well established as an international norm”, said Mr Longden who recently was in the Falklands in a familiarization visit.
Only seven months in the post, Longden who was head of communications for the UK government in the United States, said the Falklands, --and London as well--, have to tell the world that Falklands are a “vibrant 21st century community that is democratic, self-sustaining and contributing to the general public good of the South Atlantic”, and certainly not a relic of the 19th century imperialist past as ‘our critics would say’.
Longden added that these are the messages that need to be made globally to a whole range of audiences, but they are also messages that can most credibly be conveyed by Falklands Islanders themselves, including their elected representatives, who already are doing a very good job.
“I think we need to do more of it, and I’ll do what I can in London to help people here do more of that. But we shouldn’t be shy of making the case for the Falkland Islands, and I’m not”, pointed out the Foreign Office official.
Described by Tony Curran as “our man in London” Longden said there is no shortage of people working for the Falklands at the Foreign Office but admitted that two thirds of his time “realistically will be spent on Falklands’ issues”.
Longden said that it is impossible to exaggerate the amount of interest among UK ministers for the Falklands.
“This is a government that is incredibly sympathetic to the ambitions of the Islanders and very supportive, and my mandate from my political masters is to do what is necessary to help this place realise its full potential”.
Nevertheless he admitted the job is not easy, “you have a neighbour over the water with a sovereignty dispute that is genuinely difficult and has implications, potentially, for people’s lives here. So my job is to help as best as possible to manage that so the Falkland Islands continue to have the government and governance that they want and deserve and can realise the economic potential of the Islands”.
Longden insisted there are no doubts about the fundamental right of individuals to choose the kind of government they want, “and we will not be shy in making that case, which isn’t to say that we will convince people over the water that we’re right and they’re not. But we can manage that and ensure the Falklands can develop itself as it wants to”.
Struck by the spectacular diversity of the beauty of the Falklands, Longden said tourism has an enormous potential “if you can overcome what are fairly fundamental logistical and practical challenges”, but the Islands are “a very, very special corner of the world and I think being able to share that with tourists who want to come, as you have started to do, it can only be to the good”.
Longden also revealed that the UK is trying to make all of the British Government and the resources of HMG available to all the people of the Overseas Territories (with special resonance for the Falklands), whist “in the past, perhaps, parts of the British Government have regarded the Falklands as the responsibility of the Foreign Office”.
Helping out the Falklands is the responsibility of all the ministers and experts of the British government “because the Falklands are part of the British family” emphasized the FCO official.
Finally Longden mentioned he has a personal connection with the Falklands because his wife went to school with Falkland Islanders.
“We live in Winchester, so she went to Peter Symonds, and in fact my eldest daughter will go there in a few years. So they weren’t exactly unknown to me. But to come down so early in my tenure is really great”.