In July, a joint communique signed in Brussels by 60 European Union and Latin American nations referred to the Falkland Islands as the “Islas Malvinas” despite last-minute attempts by UK foreign secretary James Cleverly to persuade them to drop the reference. His text message to the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell went unheeded, and Politico reported that other British officials had been “frantically calling delegates and attachés… but to no avail.” Before Brexit, of course, Britain had the right to veto any language it did not like. Here, the deputy chairman of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly reflects on the controversy and how Brexit has affected the Islands’ economy.
The relationship between the Falkland Islands and the EU is an important one; largely based around the export of fisheries products from the Islands to the EU, via the port of Vigo in Spain. While we respect the decision taken in the 2016 referendum for the UK to withdraw from the EU, it is important to acknowledge the impact the decision continues to have on our economy and in other areas.
Once Britain voted to leave the EU, we always believed it was in the wider interests of the Falkland Islands for the UK to make a success of life outside of the EU. We were therefore pleased that the UK was able to reach a deal with the EU. The deal, however, makes no provision for the Falkland Islands and no other agreement was concluded regarding our trading relationship with the EU. As a consequence, goods imported into the EU from the Falkland Islands, for the first time, are now subject to the EU’s common external tariff.
I am quite clear, as are my fellow members of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly, that tariffs on our exports cannot be the new status quo. We therefore hope that sooner rather than later we can go back to our previous tariff-free trading relationship with the EU.
Given the importance of the relationship between the Falkland Islands and the EU and our status as a UK Overseas Territory, there has been a great interest, in some quarters, about how the EU may view the status of the Falkland Islands now that the UK is no longer a member of the EU.
Coverage of the wording of the joint declaration following the recent EU-Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit is a good example of this. The declaration included a misnomer of our home that I, and other Falkland Islanders do not accept, and some commentators were quick to point out that the incorrect labelling of the Falkland Islands would not have occurred had the UK remained a member of the EU.
True, were the UK still a member of the EU, then yes, they could have vetoed this and any reference to Argentina’s claim to the Falkland Islands, but this is not what should have excited people – after all, the EU was quick to clarify, nothing has actually changed in relation to their position on the status of the Falkland Islands, a point supported by at least one Argentine newspaper.
What people should have focussed on was the fact that this was yet again another example of the Argentine government attempt to internationally legitimise their policy of the removal of our rights and our home.
The Falkland Islands are an internally self-governing Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. This decision is based on the principle of self-determination, and so, why should the EU’s position change? After all, self-determination is a fundamental right, enshrined in the first article of the Charter of the United Nations. Falkland Islanders, just like people the world over, have the right to decide our own future. We are British, because of our history and because the people of the Falkland Islands continue to desire it.
We are the inconvenient truth to Argentina. The Falklands people can trace our society back 10 generations and we are the only people or authority our country has ever had, and we cannot be traded.
In March 2013, Falkland Islanders exercised our right to self-determination and we took to the polls in an internationally observed referendum in which 99.8% of voters, on a turnout of 92%, voted in favour of remaining a self-governing Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom.
You would have thought that such an overwhelming result would have put this matter to bed; however, our human rights and existence is something that we have to protest is recognised on a daily basis, whether on social media, in the press, or in the United Nations itself.
Our freedom to live under the government we choose is something that continues to be questioned and attacked by the government of Argentina. When a country wishes to write your people out of history, we have experienced they will try everything they can to achieve it, including economic sanctions, invasion and occupation.
What Argentina asks of countries even appears reasonable on the surface; for the governments of the United Kingdom and Argentina to sit down and negotiate. It sounds so simple, but the reality is they are asking our country to be traded like a commodity out from under our feet, and reinforcing, even in this request, that the Falkland Islands people don’t exist and shouldn’t be part of a conversation on their future and their home.
Argentina has been clear that any negotiations can only have one outcome and that is the handing over of the sovereignty of our islands to their government; now that is colonialism.
Negotiations regarding the status of the Falkland Islands should only take place if Falkland Islanders consent to them. At the same time, no discussion should take place on our home without the active involvement of the Falkland Islands people.
Eight generations of my family are Falkland Islanders. Life here is, and always has been, different to many other places, but I am so proud of the distinct culture and welcoming society we have made. Whilst we have challenges, such as the impact of Brexit, Islanders enjoy a good quality of life, with growing resources devoted to health, education, and preserving and enhancing the environment.
We all want to create a better future for our children, and as I think about my own son, I hope that his future life chances and freedom will not continue to be limited by the bullying actions of the Government of Argentina.
Falkland Islanders, now, and in the future, should not continually have to make the case for our right to self-determination or to live under the government of our choosing. However, whilst the Government of Argentina continues to fail to recognise us as a people, we will continue to make it clear to the world that we exist, we love our country, and unsurprisingly we do not want our country negotiated away from us.
This is not about asking people or governments to take sides; it is simply asking people to agree that the only people who should have a say on the status of the Falkland Islands are Falkland Islanders themselves.
We therefore remain incredibly grateful to all those who support our right to self-determination. The robust response of the UK government and the opposition to the EU-Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit joint declaration, and the prompt clarification from the EU, were clear demonstration of that support. With this in mind, we can focus on the issues that matter to our people, including the restoration of our tariff-free trading relationship with the EU.
Teslyn Barkman is deputy chairman of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly