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Artillery Row

In praise of being undiplomatic

The Falklands should always be the Falklands

Even those of us who were cool on the Brexit question were dusting off our Union Jacks and partying like it was June 2016 when the EU made the extraordinary decision to endorse an Argentina-backed declaration that referred to the Falkland Islands as “Islas Malvinas”.

Look, I realise that getting emotional about the Falkland Islands might look regressive — a sort of LARPing for a time when Britain had more weight to push around on the world stage. God knows we don’t want the Conservatives to have an excuse to talk about something other than a dying economy, rampant lawlessness, institutional decay et cetera

But I don’t want to do it. In an ideal world I’d hardly think about the Falklands at all — any more than I think about Jersey or the Isle of Man (apologies to all inhabitants of such fine places — there is just a limited amount of things that one can think about).

But the fact is that it’s not Britons who are being jingoistic. It’s not Britons who are sabre-rattling. That might sound unfair. The Celac (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) declaration looks very nice and diplomatic, with its insistence on “dialogue and respect for international law in the peaceful solution of disputes”. How multilateral! How internationalist!

Well, in principle I’m all for all dialogue. It’s great! Who could be against it? Some sort of Anglo Curtis LeMay overdosing on testosterone supplements?

Yet not all dialogue has value. Not all disputes point toward a compromise. Imagine this. I own a home. My family members are living there. It’s been ours for almost twice as long as anyone has been alive. One of the neighbours — who, incidentally, tried to break in a few years ago — keeps insisting, against all evidence, that it is theirs. They roam about the neighbourhood, calling for “dialogue and respect for local law in the peaceful solution of disputes”. But the dispute is entirely of their own making. There is no dialogue to be had. It’s my house!

… unless they want to return Argentina to its indigenous peoples they should think twice before throwing around words like “colonial”

Sure, I appreciate that the origins of the Falklands’ ownership are contested. It is not as if it would have been British without British colonialism. Still, I have to laugh when Argentina and its allies, such as China, huff and puff about “colonial thinking”. Two can play that game. Does anybody think that Argentines had been living on “Islas Malvinas” for millennia? Hell, they hadn’t been living in South America for all that long before the rearrival of the British (who found “Islas Malvinas” to be a chronically dysfunctional private fiefdom). Most Argentines are descended from Spanish colonists and Old World immigrants. There’s no shame in that, of course, but unless they want to return Argentina to its indigenous peoples they should think twice before throwing around words like “colonial”.

So much for ancient grievances. Of course, in the pure terms of power, Britain re-established its right to the Falkland Islands by defeating the Argentine invasion in 1982 — a sad war to fight, inasmuch as it was a stupid one, but that stupidity belonged to the Argentinian junta, desperately seeking a blue and white smokescreen behind which to hide economic decay and institutionalised torture. As for who has the right to the Falkland Islands according to the principle of self-determination, well, there’s no contest. With a turnout of 92 per cent, 99.8 per cent of Falkland Islanders voted to remain inhabitants of a British territory. 

This one-sided “dispute” continues for as long as Argentinian governments want to distract their people from their own incompetence. That was the case when Galtieri invaded, hoping people would forget inflation and the Dirty War, and it is the case when modern leaders look for something other than sky-high prices for their voters to talk about. Argentina, sadly, has the world’s third-highest inflation rate. I would want to distract my electorate as well — but that doesn’t make it right.

Rishi Sunak has criticised the EU’s “regrettable choice of words”. He should have gone further. Calling the Falklands “Islas Malvinas” is like calling the Donbas “Novorossiya” — with one difference being that Russians have at least occupied those lands within living memory.

That doesn’t mean I want conflict with Argentina. About the last thing our two fine yet troubled nations need is pointless aggression. We both have quite enough things to worry about. But there’s one way to avoid diplomatic disagreement and it is the Argentinian government finding a new topic of conversation. Here, I’m afraid, I see nothing to discuss.

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