“Accepting the facts on the ground” is a nasty, slippery phrase which has been put to some extremely insidious uses. The most obvious example of this is when it’s applied to territorial negotiations between Israel and Palestine, where it’s used as a euphemism for allowing the Israeli government to annexe territory occupied by illegal settlements. However, despite this unsavoury association, there are also situations where it can be applied perfectly legitimately, and among the most glaring of these is the dispute over the Falkland Islands.
Yesterday’s announcement that the South American Mercosur trading bloc is to ban Falklands-registered ships from docking in its ports has resurrected one of those irritating issues where the Tory right are actually…well, in the right. This isn’t easy for the left to accept, partly because of the historical legacy of the Falklands war (i.e Thatcher wiping out the Labour party at the 1983 general election) and partly because it involves sounding like a Telegraph reader. However, despite the longstanding Argentinian sovereignty claim, the pertinent fact on the ground in this case is that as things stand the vast majority of the Falkland Islands’ inhabitants wish to continue to be ruled by the UK. As such, that’s how things should stay. There really isn’t a decent argument – moral, legal or otherwise – to the contrary.
Unlike Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, there are not and never have been any Argentinian refugees who were driven from their homes to make room for the British who’ve settled there. The British did (according to Wikipedia) acquire them by force in the early 19th Century, but since Argentina was itself a colony of Spain for some time, and the Argentinian government has yet to come out in favour of the mass repatriation to the Iberian motherland of those of its citizens who are of Spanish descent it’s hard to see precisely how the case for Argentinian sovereignty is supposed to stack up. Yes, the islands are a legacy of Britain’s colonial past, but that doesn’t make the current inhabitants imperialists, and nor does it negate their right to self-determination, no matter how much any number of South American governments might wish it to be otherwise.