The Falkland Islands, along with other British Overseas Territories (BOTs), have occupied a unique position in the history of Britain. The first claim to the archipelago came from a British sailor, John Strong, in 1690. A turbulent period of competing claims ensued before 150 years of British rule was confirmed. A misjudged invasion by the Argentinian Military Junta forces in 1982 resulted in a British military response, leading to three months of intense fighting before the Islands were liberated. All at the cost of 907 lives.
Overseas territories have long been subject to diplomatic tensions and sovereignty claim disputes. Yet none have experienced quite the same level of bloodshed and disdain between nations as the Falklands. Diplomacy that would move the UK and Argentinian towards a warmer bilateral relationship should be welcomed, but not at the cost of trampling on the democratic verdict of the people of the Falkland Islands.
Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal for a power sharing deal seems to be another blunder in his increasingly extensive list of foreign policy mishaps. Suggestions that he is willing to discuss Argentinian involvement in the Falklands carries two great political and diplomatic risks. The latter is damaging to both Britain and the Falkland Islands and the former, points to the flaws of Corbyn’s leadership.
The UK government has always maintained that the Falkland Islanders have the right to self-determination and it’s a policy that should not change. Sovereignty claims by Argentina were redundant after the 2013 referendum which asked Islanders whether they wished to remain as a British Overseas territory. A turnout of 92%, returned a 99.8% vote affirming to remain as a BOT. Only three voted against the status. Such a resounding democratic verdict should lay the issue to rest. Rather than creating a power-sharing arrangement, Argentina should respect the will of the Islanders. A will which carries the baggage of both Argentinian and British blood, a war of liberation and a democratic decision.
Corbyn’s ‘Argentinian facilitation’ is rather capitulation to the residual political pressure from the Kirchner period. Argentina’s interest in the Island is heavily influenced by the recent discoveries of natural gases and potential oil deposits. At a time of poor economic performance and a slump in polls, claims of retaking the Falklands whipped up nationalist sentiment behind Kirchner. The UK rejected it then and Corbyn should not indulge it now. Talking to Argentina should be conducted with a view of thawing relations, which the new Argentinian government has been working towards, rather than dragging up the sovereignty issues surrounding the Island which have long since been settled.
At home Corbyn’s foreign policy agenda is in tatters. His opponents are nailing him on being ‘against Britain’, and with vague comments by Corbyn on how he would conduct Britain’s role in the world, he leaves far too much opportunity space for them to attack him. This suggestion of power-sharing has disregarded the view of the Falkland Islanders; added more distance between Corbyn, Hillary Benn and the right of the Labour party; and simultaneously suggests that Corbyn is not only happy to facilitate opponents to Britain’s foreign policy but in ways makes him seem to support them.
The ambiguity of Corbyn’s true agenda leaves the question of how his premiership would go wide open. In foreign policy terms, its time for Corbyn to get real about Britain’s obligations abroad, to bring facilitation where its needed – to the unity of the Labour party – and to stop opening himself up to attack and speculation. In an ideal world, Corbyn’s views may hold water. Being Prime Minister of the UK and leading this countries foreign policy is not in the realm of the ideal. The UK owes the Falkland Islands a relationship which they have opted for. It should not be bartered away in the name of a newer nicer politics. Who are we to disregard the self-determined view of the Falkland Islanders in favour of a nation whose claims to it have been nullified and rejected time and time again.
Corbyn’s power-sharing suggestion is as bereft of the hard political and historical realities surrounding the unique position of the Falkland Islands. It is a stance which should not be adopted in British foreign policy and should neither be indulged.