2015: Chairman's Report





I must first mark the passing of Colin Wright, our Honorary Secretary, who died on 30 September after a long illness against cancer which he battled bravely. Despite his many other interests the Betjeman Society, God's Own Acre, the local Air Cadets Squadron and not least his church, as listed in his obituary on the Association's website - Colin served the Falkland Islands Association with great distinction for over ten years. It was therefore a pleasure and a privilege for me to be able to present him, on the Governor's behalf, the award of the Queen's Certificate and Badge of Honour at a small ceremony at his home in Shrewsbury shortly before his death. The award of this honour is in the gift of the Falkland Islands Government and it was a measure of the deep respect in which Colin was held in the Falkland Islands and elsewhere that all elected members in the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly agreed to recommend his nomination to the Governor. We miss him greatly. 

Colin represented all that is best in the voluntary sector. As an unpaid volunteer, he gave his time and commitment to the work of the Association tirelessly and without complaint. It is on the shoulders of such volunteers that organisations like ours must rely. Unfortunately, our plans for a smooth handover of the Hon Sec's responsibilities fell through. So the post remains vacant â€" and I use this opportunity to make an appeal for help in finding a suitable successor. Copies of the job description have been placed on the table by the entrance. The only really essential qualifications for the job are enthusiasm and a firm commitment to the Association's principal aims  to support the Falkland Islanders right to self-determination and to help to counter Argentine propaganda associated with Argentina's spurious sovereignty claim. 

 We are in a time when many of those who were in the most senior positions in politics and the military during the conflict of 1982 are ageing, if they have not already passed away. The Association has, for example, lost Baroness Thatcher, Sir Rex Hunt and Sir Jack Haywood to its cause in recent times. 

 So it is with distinct pleasure that I record that Air Chief Marshall Sir Peter Squire GCB, DFC, AFC has kindly agree to become a Vice President of the Association alongside General Sir Peter de la Billiere, who served as Military Commissioner and Commander British Forces in the Falklands in 1984, having been involved in the planning of SAS operations during the 1982 conflict. Sir Peter Squire took his squadron of Harriers down to the Falklands in 1982, transferring from the Atlantic Conveyor to HMS Hermes just before Atlantic Conveyor was lost to Argentine Exocet missiles. He saw active service; was the first RAF pilot to fire a laser-guided missile in anger in the Falklands; and had, on a separate occasion, to eject from his aircraft because of engine failure. He is a strong supporter of the Association and we welcome him to his new role. 

 It is important for the Association to maintain contact with senior opinion-formers in the UK and elsewhere in case, once again, there is a need to build a public lobby to counter threats of any kind to the Falkland Islanders right to self-determination. We rely on the advice and wisdom of our Vice-Presidents to assist us in this. In recent times, we have been fortunate in counting on the broad popular support for the Falklands in the UK and particularly in Parliament. But times change and we may have to be more alert to possible shifts in attitude. 

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party brings a potential element of uncertainty to traditional Labour support for the Islanders. Corbyn was opposed to the despatch of the Task Force in 1982 and has often attended conferences organised by the Argentine Embassy in the UK at which he has consistently supported Argentina's call for ˜dialogue on sovereignty: yet dialogue in Argentine terms means only discussion of a transfer of sovereignty. More worryingly, Corbyn has appointed Seumas Milne from the hard-line left as his Executive Director of Strategy and Communications. His piece in the Guardian on 12 March 2013, in which he condemned the British military presence in the Falkland Islands as "a Ruritanian absurdity in the South Atlantic, gives a stark impression of his views. 

 Corbyn’s battle with his front bench moderates, brought to boiling point in the vote on UK airstrikes in Syria, has yet to play out. So it is not easy to see whether Labour Party policy towards the Falklands Islands will change. Let us hope that Hilary Benn's influence as Shadow Foreign Secretary will prevail so that bipartisanship will continue. 

 It was reassuring at least to see the sustained, strong support for the Falkland Islands in the Conservative Government's Defence and Strategy Review published in mid-November: "We will continue to work closely with the Falkland Islanders to defend their right to self-determination we will retain a deterrence posture with sufficient military forces in the region. We will invest up to £300 million over the next ten years to enhance operational communications, renew the existing air defence system and upgrade infrastructure. All much-needed modernisation rather than any change in posture. 

 The other potential element of uncertainty stems from the election of Mauricio Macri as President-elect of Argentina. When he takes over on 10 December, it will mark the end of the Kirchner regime of 12 years. Macri wants to shift Argentina's economic policies towards a greater reliance on business opportunity and the abolition of trade barriers, price controls and state intervention. Internationally, he plans to re-establish closer relations with the US (and the UK) away from the left-wing governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador (and Iran). This will be easier said than done, since Macri does not control Congress and the complexity of Argentina's economic problems are likely to result in unpopular short-term problems if he pushes his reforms through the abolition of exchange controls would, for example, lead to a major devaluation of the peso with social consequences. 

Given such pressing problems, the Falkland Islands are unlikely to loom large in Macriâ's priorities. But he has already indicated that he would "tone down the rhetoric and abolish the post of  Malvinas Secretary created by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in 2013 (and held by Daniel Filmus). But that does not mean that Argentina's sovereignty claim will be dropped. For the Islanders (and this Association), it was probably easier to maintain support for their self-determination under the Kirchner regime, just because the Kirchners were so confrontational with policies amounting to an attempted economic blockade and their refusal to recognise or deal with the Falkland Islands Government. 

We wait to see whether Macri puts out feelers for a more realistic relationship with the Falkland Islands. The difficulty then will be to assess whether they are genuine and mutually beneficial with no hidden agenda. A key precondition must be that the Falkland Islands Government should be directly involved in any such discussions: the Argentine Government cannot be allowed to maintain their policy of seeking to deal only with the UK Government as if this were a bilateral issue. Equally, we shall have to watch out for those in the British establishment who would be prepared to compromise on British sovereignty in the hope of a long-term solution. That has to be resisted. 

But we are a long way from any such worst case scenario. It is, however, the Association's task to help prevent it ever happening again.