James Cleverly has said he will visit the Falkland Islands to assert UK control over them after a “showdown” with the Argentine government.
The Foreign Secretary told an audience at a drinks reception at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester on Sunday night that he would “make it absolutely clear” that the UK supports the islands’ right to self-determination.
The UK government has been embroiled in a fresh dispute with Argentina since March, when Buenos Aires withdrew from a cooperation agreement with Britain and called for talks between the two countries over the Falklands.
The dispute has also fueled tensions between the United Kingdom and the European Union, which in July referred to them as the “Malvinas Islands” – their Argentine name – in a move that Cleverly said would “increase tensions in the region.”
On Sunday night, the Foreign Secretary said that in response to a “confrontation with the Argentine government at the moment”, he would visit the islands to make the UK’s position clear.
“Some of you will have noticed that because there is an election coming up, they are trying to flex their muscles a bit when it comes to the people of the Falklands,” he said.
“I now believe in the right of people to self-determination and the people of the Falklands have made their position clear and we need to restore a conservative government to ensure they and others around the world are protected.
“And just to emphasize that point, I’m going to take the opportunity to visit the Falklands because I think it’s my job to make that absolutely clear. [that] only a Conservative government can be trusted to look after the best interests of this country and those others around the world who depend on good British government, including, of course, the wonderful and brave people of Ukraine currently defending themselves against Russia . assault.”
Cleverly would be the first British cabinet minister to visit the archipelago since 2016, when then-Defense Secretary Michael Fallon flew there to assert the “right of islanders to determine their own future.”
Despite Argentina’s calls for the islands to be handed over, in a 2013 referendum 99.8 percent of voters chose to remain an overseas territory of the United Kingdom.
A previous visit by then Foreign Minister Hugo Swire in 2014 generated angry comments and accusations of “arrogance” by the Argentine government.
Last year, Princess Anne visited the country to mark the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War.
The dispute over the Falklands has intensified in recent months ahead of elections in Argentina on October 22.
In March, the country broke a cooperation agreement with the United Kingdom and said relations between the two nations would be strained as long as Britain refused to discuss its sovereignty over the islands.
Santiago Cafiero, Argentine Foreign Affairs Secretary, said that the 1982 Falklands War “did not alter the nature of the dispute between both countries, which is still pending negotiation and resolution.”
In July, Cleverly criticized the EU for its decision to refer to the islands by their Argentine name in a joint statement by European states that did not include the United Kingdom.
He reportedly sent a message to Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, warning that referring to the islands would be “interpreted by Argentina as support for its cause, will demand that we respond and will increase tensions in the region.”
The Foreign Office said it had raised concerns about the statement at both “senior officials and at ministerial level”.
However, Brussels supported a statement backed by Argentina that both the EU and Latin American and Caribbean countries supported “the importance of dialogue and respect for international law in the peaceful resolution of disputes” over “the Malvinas Islands/ Falkland.”
Argentina called the statement a “diplomatic triumph,” and Cafiero said Buenos Aires hoped to “deepen dialogue with the European Union regarding the issue of the Malvinas Islands” following the statement.
European officials said the UK was not in a position to challenge its wording because it is no longer an EU member state.