Brexit vote could have serious implications for the Falkland Islands June 2016
The UK referendum on EU membership on 23 June 2016 resulted in a small majority (by 52% to 48%) in favour of a British exit from the European Union and the announcement by Prime Minister, David Cameron, that he would give up the premiership at some stage before the Conservative Party Conference on 2-5 October to allow a new Prime Minister to lead the Brexit negotiation with the EU.
Apart from Gibraltar, the UK Overseas Territories (OTs) were not able to vote in the referendum but the Falkland Islands Government made their concerns known in a submission to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in April – see earlier news item on this website. They also issued a press notice following the referendum result indicating that they would be engaging closely with the UK Government and the Brexit negotiating team to ensure that their interests are protected, particularly as regards their access to the EU single market.
There is a risk, however, that OT concerns will be overlooked during the transition period and in the longer term. If, for example, the UK economy contracts as a result of Brexit, it may not be possible for the UK Government against competing demands to mirror the economic and developmental assistance previously available to the OTs from the EU. Also, once outside the EU, the UK might not be able to defend the interests of its OTs, both within the EU and in international fora, so easily. The UK’s ability to influence key international players in defence of its OTs might inexorably decline.
In the short term, it is important that the UK Government uses existing consultation channels (or sets up new co-ordinating machinery) to ensure that OT Governments are able to feed their concerns into the Brexit negotiation so that their interests can properly be taken into account. And in the longer term, the UK OTs, particularly the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar, will need the reassurance of the UK Government that their defence and security will continue to be protected.
Friends of the Falklands should ensure that UK Ministers and parliamentarians do not forget their responsibility towards the Falkland Islands and other OTs.
Spanish voices have already indicated that a British exit from the EU would remove the protection given to Gibraltar as a British Overseas Territory by EU Treaties, which would no longer apply. Spain's caretaker Foreign Minister, Jose Garcia Margallo, said that a Brexit would open up 'new possibilities on Gibraltar'. Spain would seek to prevent the issue of Gibraltar being included as part of the UK-EU negotiations on separation so that it could be treated as a bilateral issue only with the UK. The Spanish objective would be to hold bilateral talks with the UK Government initially on co-sovereignty with full transfer of sovereignty to Spain as the ultimate aim. Spain holds its own elections on 26 June and it remains to be seen whether or not the incoming Spanish Government will share this view. But it underlines the point that EU Treaties made it difficult for EU Member States to challenge the UK's sovereignty over its Overseas Territories, at least collectively. Once Britain leaves the EU, that constraint may disappear - and the future EU position, post-Brexit, on Argentina's claim to the Falkland Islands may change.