UK Defence Secretary visits the Falkland Islands

Michael Fallon’s visit to the Falkland Islands as Secretary of State for Defence in mid-February sent out a strong signal reaffirming British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands and providing reassurance to the Islanders of the UK’s commitment to their continued, long-term defence.

The Defence Secretary confirmed the UK’s commitment of £180 million over 10 years for investment in the military base at Mount Pleasant, including £22 million for the refurbishment of the port facility at Mare Harbour, £60 million for a new power station and £20 million for improvements to accommodation facilities. Earlier, in the context of the Defence and Strategy Review published in November 2015, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) had announced a modernisation of the existing air defence and communication systems plus the return of two Chinook helicopters that had previously been withdrawn to support British troops in other theatres. The Defence Review (Chapter 4.18) had stated that, whilst the risk of a military attack on the Islands was low, the UK would retain sufficient military forces in the region to maintain an adequate deterrence posture. The Defence Secretary’s announcement that, after 30 years, some modernisation of the military infrastructure on the Islands was necessary, was therefore a welcome reassurance for the Islanders. He also agreed to consider the possibility of making some improvements to the air terminal facilities at the Mount Pleasant airport (MPA).

Politically, Mr Fallon reaffirmed British sovereignty and the Falkland Islanders’ right to self-determination, as enshrined in the UN Charter. The issue had long been settled, he said, and the wish for the Falkland Islands to remain a British Overseas Territory overwhelmingly endorsed in the 2013 referendum. That said, he hoped that the election of a new government in Argentina would offer a real opportunity for the Falkland Islanders to build more positive relations with their South American neighbours. Jokingly, he commented that the biggest threat to the Falkland Islands came from Jeremy Corbyn who, in supporting an open, ‘no preconditions’ dialogue with Argentina and in toying with old, rejected ideas of joint sovereignty, seemed prepared to override the wishes of the Falkland Islanders.

Significantly, the Argentine Government, whilst registering a protest about the visit, did so in a relatively low-key way without the histrionics that characterised the pronouncements of the Kirchner regime.