UK Elections: Conservative and Labour Party Manifestos May 2017
Both Labour Party and Conservative manifestos contain brief references to the protection of UK sovereignty over the Falkland Islands but there is not much more about the UK Overseas Territories in either document. Their focus is more on Brexit and UK domestic policies. Bipartisanship is therefore maintained even if Jeremy Corbyn’s personal views are known to be at variance with official Labour Party policy.
The Conservative and Labour Parties have published their manifestos for the UK general election on 8 June. Despite being lengthy documents – the Labour manifesto runs to 126 pages and the Conservatives’ nearly 90 pages - the UK Overseas Territories barely merit a mention, since the focus is on Brexit and UK domestic policies. That said, both adequately protect the position of the Falkland Islands against Argentina’s sovereignty claim.
The Conservative Manifesto – ‘Forward Together: Our Plan for a Stronger Britain and a Prosperous Future’ – contains this sentence in Chapter 2 ‘Leaving the EU’:
"And we will protect the democratic freedom of the people of Gibraltar and our overseas territories to remain British, for as long as that is their wish.”
The only other reference that could be found is in the section on ‘Protecting the Global Environment’, which reads:
"We will work with our Overseas Territory governments to create a Blue Belt of marine protection in their precious waters, establishing the largest marine sanctuaries anywhere in the world.”
The Labour Manifesto – ‘For the Many not the Few’ – has a reference to the Overseas Territories in chapter 12 ‘A Global Britain’ which reads:
"We will always stand up for the rights, interests and self-determination of British Overseas Territories and their citizens, whether protecting the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands against anyone who would seek to challenge it, or supporting the right of the Chagos Islanders1 to return to their homeland.”
The only other apparent reference to Overseas Territories is in the chapter on Development, which reads:
"Labour will act decisively on tax havens, introducing strict standards of transparency for Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, including a public register of owners, directors, major shareholders and beneficial owners for all companies and trusts.”
Corbyn: Public Criticism
Jeremy Corbyn, a longstanding left-wing pacifist, has come under some attack from Falklands veterans (and media) in the context of the 35th anniversary of the 1982 conflict for his views on the Falklands war and more generally on his dislike of the use of force – see the analysis of his previous public statements in earlier news items on 5 September 2015 and 17 January 2016 on this website.
Falklands veterans took him to task for suggesting some form of ‘accommodation’ with the Argentines over the Falkland Islands – and, more widely, media critics accused him of failing repeatedly to condemn the IRA bombing campaign. One of his shadow Foreign Office Ministers, Catherine West, commented that Corbyn’s instinct would have been to try talking to the Argentines first. That said, the Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, defended Corbyn during the BBC TV’s ‘Andrew Marr Show’ on 14 May, by saying that Labour would always defend the Islands militarily if they were being attacked and that, whilst "there needs to be a future in terms of talking to the neighbours of the Falklands”, this should not be at the risk of "undermining the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.” Corbyn was reported as saying, in a broader policy speech on international affairs on 12 May, that he would always focus on defence, development and diplomacy first "with armed action only as a last resort”.
It is not for the FIA to involve itself in UK electoral politics but it seems clear that, if elected to government, the Labour Parliamentary Party might have a difficult time in reconciling the policy differences over defence and security issues shared by Jeremy Corbyn and the party’s left-wing activists. But, for the time being, the bipartisan policy of defending the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands is maintained.
1 Corbyn was, before he became leader of the Labour Party, the Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Chagos Islands (British Indian Ocean Territory). This statement is not shared by the Conservative Government.