They’re a legacy of colonialism, but the Falkland Islands should stay British

This post was written by Owen on December 22, 2011
Posted Under: International

“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.

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Reader Comments


Completely disagree with your argument, The Falklands are no where near the British Isles, if the show was on the other foot and Argentina had held the Isle of wight do you think the British would stand for it? even if the Argentines had put a bunch of their citizens on the island and used that to justify its occupation. I’m sure if citizens of Argentina who are of spanish descent wanted to be repatriated with Spain they would be allowed to do so. I think it’s a great shame that Britain wants to hold on to a this part of it’s shameful history.

Written By Yasin on December 22nd, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

There’s some confusion over imperialism and colonialism here.

With a population of about 3,000 the Falklands have never been much of a colony.

On the other side Yasin might note these islands are also nowhere near Argentina (about 250 miles), so the contention that Britain renounced any imperial ambition in South America and all adjacent islands in the 1790 convention does not apply because 250 miles is patently not adjacent, nor was it ever intended this should apply (it is because it was pre-independence and the convention was negotiated with Spaniards that the Argentines don’t recognise this).

By comparison the Isle of Wight is less than 5 miles distant from the mainland, belongs to the same grouping, has significant value regarding shipping channels and sovereignty is neither questioned nor clarified by additional treaty.

Whatever else you might say about the dubious nature of some aspects of imperialism and colonialism, the defence of the Falkland islanders freedom in the face of invasion by Galtieri’s military junta is something to be proud of – remember, that was a regime responsible for the persecution of their own citizens during a decade-long dirty war in which tens of thousands of people were ‘disappeared’ in all sorts of human rights abuses.

Do you think Britain would encircle the Olympic Park with tanks to threaten opponents as the Argentines did during the 1978 World Cup?

The case doesn’t show that the tories are correct (perish the thought), rather only how unthinking left-wing ideology gets twisted up to produce the wrong answer – the islands lost any strategic value for Britain when the Panama Canal was completed and we repeatedly tried to get rid of them to remove any awkwardness in dealing with S American countries (hindering the British informal empire which is traditionally strong there); it is the islanders who choose to maintain the link.

I find it absolutely bizarre that pandering to nationalism in the name of anti-imperialism is ever acceptable.

Written By Oranjepan on December 22nd, 2011 @ 3:35 pm

These are no longer just citizens who have been “put” there, Yasin. These are people who, for 180 years for some of them, can call this place their home. Certainly there are immigrants to the UK much more recent than that who I have no qualms about calling British.
Besides, the Falklands were empty when European powers found them – there are no displaced peoples other than a French-then-Spanish colony, neither of whom pursue any claim on the islands (and both withdrew rather than leaving their populations to self-govern).
Argentina’s territorial claim does not have nearly so much weight as the claim of those who for generations have lived and died in that place, making it their home. There is no significant Argentinian population that I am aware of who can also claim the islands as their home.

Written By Tangqian on December 22nd, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

“it is the islanders who choose to maintain the link.”

Agree, entirely.

Written By T on December 22nd, 2011 @ 7:40 pm

I agree entirely, and think the Argentinean sabre-rattling is intended to distract the population from increasing economic difficulties the government has little answer for.

Written By Owain on December 22nd, 2011 @ 11:59 pm

I’m not sure about that. Growth of 8% year on year ( and a $700m monthly trade surplus ( Osborne would kill for “economic difficulties” like that.

Written By Owen on December 23rd, 2011 @ 12:09 am

Ah but official inflation is 10%, and is likely higher, which puts the squeeze on everything and everyone.

Written By Owain on December 25th, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

I agree with Owen about the Falklands.

“if the show was on the other foot and Argentina had held the Isle of wight do you think the British would stand for it?”

Yasin – the Faroes a quite a bit nearer Scotland than anywhere in Scandinavia – yet I’m not aware of anyone suggesting we should go to war with Denmark!

Written By Sarah AB on December 26th, 2011 @ 10:43 am

Another way Argentina fudges the figures to flatter their situation With this, and massively underestimating inflation, the conditions for future problems are set.

Written By Owain on August 24th, 2012 @ 3:00 am

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