“I THINK there is no doubt that the Argentine Government will continue to look for opportunities to pull stunts of one kind or another.”
The speaker was Dr Peter Hayes, the Director of the FCO’s Overseas Territories Directorate who was paying a short visit to the Falkland Islands last week.
Asked what further lengths the Argentines might go to after having tried to enlist the help of the new Pope, Dr Hayes said, “For the Argentineans this is essentially a PR campaign. They are looking to keep the issue on the agenda, to continue to suggest there is a problem and to wear down the Islanders, the UK and others in the region.
That is one of their big miscalculations thinking they will wear down the Islanders and the UK when actually what they are doing is strengthening the resolve.”
Dr Hayes, who took over the job of Director of the Overseas Territories in October of last year was paying his first visit to the Falkland Islands, following a recent visit to St Helena. He admitted that his visit was short, but said that he had wanted to make a first visit as early as possible, even if it had to be short, but expected it would be the first of a number of visits. He had already met some of the MLAs in London, read briefings and spoken to colleagues, but there was no substitute, he said, “for coming myself and sniffing the air and to start that process of really educating myself about the Falkland Islands.”
He said it was such an exciting time to be in the Falklands just after the referendum when the world’s media were focussed on the Islands for very good reasons, because the Islanders had taken an opportunity into their own hands and made it happen. It was, said Dr Hayes a good time to start the process of talking about how the referendum would work to the benefit of the Islanders in the long term.
A very powerful signal had been sent to the world and the task now was to consider how to continue to support that and to make it help to build the relationships that were desired.
Asked whether the Falklands referendum might encourage other Overseas Territories along the path towards greater autonomy, Dr Hayes said that while he hadn’t heard any of the other territories say that they wanted to do something similar, there were Overseas Territories which had political parties who were ostensibly in favour of independence.
He said hat while up to now there hadn’t that while up to now there hadn’t been a lot of support amongst the people, the UK Government’s position remained that if people did decide that they wanted to change the relationship then it would support that and help them. In this case holding a referendum would be important; it had to be not just the politicians’ wish to either keep or change the relationship with Britain, but the clearly expressed views of the people.
Asked for a reaction to the statement by the Argentine Government that the referendum was an irrelevancy organised by the British Government, Dr Hayes replied, “One of the great successes of the referendum was the international observation. It would be very difficult to suggest that this very large group of people from a lot of different countries including people of great standing and reputation: politicians and civil society people from around the region as well as from Canada and elsewhere, had been stage managed by you or by us in some way. It would be pretty difficult to persuade people of that.
“A particularly strong and successful part of the referendum was that we had the world media here; together with this large group of observers, who were able to say that this clearly was the genuinely expressed view of the people.”
Dr Hayes said that the more difficult and in some ways more offensive issue in their campaign is that the Argentines say that the views of the people do not matter; that it is about history and sovereignty, but not about the people.
“The most important thing that we have to counter is this suggestion that the views of the people don’t matter.” (PN)