By Simon Jenkins from The Guardian - The Conservatives’ stubborn stance on the Islands’ future is merely a refusal to let go of our last spark of military glory
The Falkland Islands are the Parthenon marbles of Britain’s diplomacy. They bring out the silliest antics in what passes for its “role on the world stage”.
The election of a new populist leader in Argentina made the reopening of the Falklands issue a near certainty, and so it has proved. The bizarre figure of Javier Milei may not be on the world stage for long, but he did pay British history the compliment of calling Thatcher “one of the great leaders in the history of humanity”. He duly suggested the time might have come, yet again, to reopen the issue of Falklands sovereignty, not militarily but by diplomacy.
Since the last British government to make such a proposal was that of a certain Margaret Thatcher, it might not seem unreasonable. Indeed, had it not been for the lunacy of the Argentine dictator General Galtieri, it was perfectly possible that a sale and 99-year leaseback agreement under UN auspices could have been reached in 1980. It had been negotiated since 1971 and Labor’s Ted Rowlands had sold such a deal to the Islanders in 1977. Had Labour not lost in 1979, it was a probability.
At that time Islander contact with the adjacent mainland was close – including shared schools and medical care. The Rowlands deal was taken up and again sold, rather tactlessly to the Islanders by Thatcher’s junior minister, Nick Ridley. Yet on his return, Ridley – and his proposal of a leasing arrangement – was attacked by all sides of parliament. This was a precipitating factor in the subsequent Argentine invasion.
Some version of joint sovereignty was later put forward by the Peruvians shortly before the British landings in 1982. It would have secured the position of the Islanders on terms already negotiated. It would have saved hundreds of lives, and would not be costing British taxpayers some £60m a year to defend the islands, or roughly £2.4bn for 40 years. Nothing so illustrates the daftness of the lasting cult of British imperialism.
The Foreign Office seems to have unlimited sums for imperial gestures. Social care ministers can eat their hearts out. Carriers are sent to the South China Sea, destroyers to the Black Sea and a patrol vessel to the Falklands. What on earth for? Quite apart from the hypocrisy of Jeremy Hunt claiming to be short of money, this schoolboy machismo makes Britain look ridiculous.
The Falklands appear to “belong” not to Britain but to their inhabitants, or so the defense secretary, Grant Shapps, implies in conceding them all decisions over their future at any cost. A previous Tory government accepted that this cost – then far less – was prohibitive and absurd. It decided that some tiny Islands thousands of miles away off the coast of South America would be best advised to forge a relationship with their close neighbor. No sensible observer demurred.
The Rowlands, Ridley and Peruvian plans offered the islanders security. The UN and other Latin American countries were to share in guarantees. There was never a need for the expense of the present fortification. The sole reason for London’s refusal to return to negotiation is frankly that the Falklands were Britain’s last spark of military glory. That was 40 years ago. It cannot justify abandoning all common sense.