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Sukey Cameron MBE: A Retrospective on her 40 Years of Service to the Falkland Islands

Sukey Cameron retired from her post as the Representative of the Falkland Islands Government (FIG) in October 2019, after 40 years of promoting the Falkland Islanders' cause in the UK and Europe. Awarded an MBE in 2003, it was an unusual mark of respect and affection for her that a cross-party group of UK Parliamentarians supported an Early Day Motion congratulating her on the award. During her long service, she built up a wealth of experience and expertise that, with her natural charm and obvious integrity, made her an effective lobbyist. She has been widely (and rightly) acclaimed as having done an excellent job for her country.

 

Early Background

Born in Stanley in 1956, Sukey (nee Susan) has deep roots in the Falkland Islands on both sides of the family.

Her paternal grandfather, William Keith Cameron (1840-1920), settled in the Falkland Islands in 1867 and established the family farm at Port San Carlos. Her father, Norman Keith Cameron (1900-71), took over the management of the farm in 1929, returning to the UK and volunteering for active service in WW2. He served with the Coldstream Guards in Italy and was mentioned in dispatches. On returning to the Islands, he became a member of the Falkland Islands Government's Executive Council (1949-65) and was awarded an OBE in 1953 and a CBE in 1963. Sukey's mother, Anne (1914-2002) was the eldest daughter of Sir Herbert Henniker Heaton. Norman and Anne retired in 1965 to Ireland, where Anne had been born. Following Norman’s death in 1971, Anne assumed the role of Managing Director of the farm until it was sold in 1989. She died in 2002.

Sukey's maternal grandfather, Sir Herbert Henniker Heaton KCMG (1880-1961), also had close links to the Falkland Islands, having served there as Colonial Secretary in 1921-1913 and acting Governor in 1923-1924 and then again as Governor in 1935-1941, gaining his KCMG in 1937.

Sukey was the youngest of four siblings: Jane Cameron (b.1950) who served as the Government Archivist from 1989 until her tragic death in a car crash in Argentina in 2009; Alastair Cameron (b.1951) who joined the Falkland Islands Government Office (FIGO) in London in 1983 succeeding Adrian Monk as FIG Representative in 1984 before handing over to Lewis Clifton in 1987. Returning to the Falkland Islands, he became Director of Fisheries before his own untimely death in a vehicle accident near Bluff Cove in 1989; Sukey's other brother, Donald (b.1953), lives with his family in Ireland.

Sukey was born in Stanley in 1956 and brought up on the 98,000 acre Port San Carlos farm; she says that she was on the back of a horse before learning to walk and recalls a free and happy early childhood in the Falklands. Along with 20 other children in the settlement, she received a Camp education before leaving in 1965, when her parents retired to the UK and then Ireland. She attended boarding school - Prior's Field, in Godalming, Surrey - before undertaking secretarial training in London.

Her first job was with a Swedish furniture company in London, where she worked for three years before travelling back to the Falkland Islands with her mother for three months in 1978. On her return to London, she worked on a temporary basis for a few weeks in the office of the Falkland Islands Association (FIA), filling in for Islander Leif Pollard who had left the office to go back to the Falklands.

 

Falkland Islands Association

In early 1979, Sukey was invited by Air Commodore Brian Frow to work with him on a full-time basis as Executive Secretary in the FIA office in London. Frow (1922-2002) had taken up the job as Director on his retirement from the RAF in 1977 (and held it until 1982 even after he was appointed Clerk to the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in 1980). At that time, Brian Frow and Sukey were the FIA's only full-time officers working out of a single room rented from a firm of solicitors at 2 Greycoat Place, London, SW1.

The FIA had had its origins in the Falkland Islands Emergency Committee, which Bill Hunter Christie and other friends of the Islands, helped to set up in the UK in 1968, to lobby against the UK Government's negotiations with Argentina on the possible transfer of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. Bill Hunter Christie (1922-97), had joined the Foreign Office after being invalided out of the army in 1944 and served in the British Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1946-48 before being called to the Bar in Lincoln's Inn in 1952. He became passionately involved in lobbying against the Labour Government's policy following the appeal to Parliament by Falkland Island Councillors after Lord Chalfont's abortive visit to the Islands in 1968. He was joint Honorary Secretary of the Emergency Committee on its establishment and continued in that role when it was re-formed in 1972 to become the UK Falkland Islands Committee (UKFIC). In 1976, he set up the FIA to provide an office and secretariat for the UKFIC and became FIA Chairman from 1976 to 1983.

Although the Falkland Islanders had survived the threat of being handed over to Argentina during the period of active decolonisation in the late 1960s, the UK Government tried throughout the 1970s to shift the debate towards economic co-operation in the SW Atlantic, allowing Argentina eventually to develop a stranglehold over air and sea communications and oil supplies to the Islands. For the UK, it was a time of elevated tensions in the Cold War, with the break-up of détente after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, as well as economic problems and severe budgetary pressures over the continuation of the nuclear deterrent. The prospect of reinforcing the defence of the Falklands and maintaining their commercial links with the outside world was therefore not an option that found UK Government favour.

So, when Sukey joined the FIA office in 1979, there was still much to do. The new Conservative Government conducted a review of Falkland Islands policy, which led to visits by the FCO Minister of State, Nicholas Ridley, to the Islands in August 1979 and November 1980 to discuss several options including condominium and a 'lease-back' arrangement with Argentina. These were once again firmly rejected by the Islanders and roundly criticised in Parliament on Ridley's return on 2 December 1980 (which led to Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher's injunction to colleagues that no pressure should be put on the Islanders to accept anything against their wishes). The importance of having an office in London to represent Falkland Islander views publicly in the UK and particularly to UK parliamentarians became self-evident.

Some of Sukey's work lay in drumming up support against the UK Government's reluctance to implement the recommendations of Lord Shackleton's report on the future development of the Falkland Islands' economy, published in 1976. In particular, the FIA office provided support for the South Atlantic Fisheries Committee which was lobbying for an exclusive fisheries zone around the Falkland Islands (which was eventually achieved in 1986, transforming the Islands' economy). Sukey also handed in a petition to No 10 Downing Street as part of the campaign to include a provision for Falkland Islanders to gain British citizenship in the 1981 British Nationality Act, eventually achieved in 1983.

The FIA office also warned against Ministry of Defence (MoD) plans to decommission HMS Endurance, the UK's ice patrol vessel, following on from the UK Defence review of 1979. This was in the light of the revelation in late 1978 that the UK Government had kept the establishment of an Argentine base on Southern Thule under wraps for at least two years. General Galtieri's assumption to the Argentine Presidency in late 1981 raised further concerns as did the unauthorised landing of Argentine scrap metal workers in Leith, South Georgia in March 1982. The FIA office had to work hard to counter the apparent lack of public and governmental attention to issues affecting the Falklands.

 

Argentine Invasion

Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands on 2 April 1982. The news came as a shock to the nation and to all Falkland islanders at home and abroad. The FIA office became a focus of media attention and for general enquiries. The two permanent staff were supplemented by a band of volunteers so that the office could operate on a 24 hour basis. It also provided support for Governor Rex Hunt, following his expulsion by the Argentines, and two Councillors, the late John Cheek and Bill Luxton, both also deported.

Sukey remembers this as a desperate time, not knowing what was happening in the Islands, uncertain about the degree of political support in the UK and internationally, and concerned about the safety of Islanders and those in the Task Force. The period of international shuttle diplomacy over the future of the Falklands as the Task Force made its way down to the Islands was a particularly worrying time. The office upped its campaign to ensure political support in Parliament and, to get the right message across publicly at home and abroad, worked closely with the media, providing them with information and an almost continuous stream of interviewees. It also served as a contact point for Islanders in the UK and those who left the Islands at the start of the invasion and it answered constant inquiries from members of the public including families of members of the Task Force. The office worked closely with the MoD, helping them with contacts, photographs and general information, where local knowledge proved crucial (a photograph of a suspected Argentine 'tank', for example, turned out to be a peat stack covered by a tarpaulin).

Sukey shared in the general euphoria on liberation on 14 June 1982 but the relief was tempered by sadness at the casualties and loss of life incurred in its achievement. In the aftermath of the conflict, her focus shifted towards supporting the reconstruction effort, encouraging British business interests to became engaged in the future development of the Islands.

In March 1983, she travelled back to the Falklands for the 150th anniversary of permanent British settlement in the Islands. Communications with the Islands were still difficult: she flew on an RAF VC10 to Ascension Island before transferring by helicopter to the SS Uganda for the 10 day onward leg to the Islands. Sukey was impressed by how much had been done to clear up after the Argentine surrender, even though some detritus of war especially the Argentine minefields (now being cleared by the UK) still remain today to serve as a reminder to all. She returned on the SS Cunard Countess.

 

Falkland Islands Government Office (FIGO)

After the war, the Falkland Islands Government decided to establish an official Falkland Islands Government Office (FIGO) in London. Adrian Monk, was appointed as FIG's first Representative in London. A Falkland Islander, who had recently retired from farming in the Islands, he had over 20 years of service in the FI Legislative Council and had led the challenge against Nicholas Ridley's proposals for leaseback, The office was formally opened on 12 January 1983 (coincidentally the date of publication of the Franks Report into the origins of the war). Sukey joined soon afterwards; Rex Hunt had invited her for drinks at the Albert pub on Victoria Street, to ask whether she would join the staff in the new office; she accepted readily.

FIGO's aims were, and remain, to raise awareness of the Falkland Islands and to represent the interests of the Falkland Islands Government (FIG) and its people, targeting government, parliamentarians, the media and the general public in the UK; to boost trade and attract inward investment to the Falkland Islands; and to provide various support services, including helping patients coming to the UK for medical treatment, supporting FI students in the UK for sixth form and tertiary education, co-ordinating flight bookings for civilians travelling on the MOD airbridge, and helping to recruit applicants for jobs in the FI civil service. FIGO also provides a secretariat for FI elected representatives and civil servants visiting the UK on official business and liaises with the various organisations supporting the Falkland Islands, including the FIA, the UK Falkland Islands Trust, the Shackleton Scholarship Fund, the FI Museum and National Trust and the FI Maritime Heritage Trust. FIGO also maintains close links with military veteran organisations, like SAMA82, environmental protection agencies like Falklands Conservation, as well as special interest groups (e.g. on coins and stamps).

Sukey took over as FIG Representative in 1990 from Lewis Clifton who had overseen FIGO's move to its permanent location in Falkland House, Broadway, London, SW1 (opposite St James's Park tube station) in 1989. She served as FIG's Representative for nearly 30 years (far outstripping the length of service of her predecessors – Adrian Monk 1983-4; Alastair Cameron 1984-7; Lewis Clifton 1987-90) before she retired at the end of October 2019.

 

Falkland Islands Government Representative: Main Efforts

Key elements of her work involved:

• organising familiarisation visits to the Falkland Islands by UK parliamentarians every year under the FIG sponsored scheme. Not easy to set up because of the time and travel involved, they were worth the investment involved: visitors invariably returned as firm supporters;

• staffing a Falkland Islands stand at the annual Party Conferences to draw political attention to the Falkland Islands. She was honoured with presentations at both the Conservative and Labour Party conferences in 2019;

• promoting trade and business opportunities between the UK and the Falkland Islands. This included organising a Falkland Islands stand for many years at the Royal Show at Stoneleigh and other agricultural shows around the country – and in 2007 a successful Business Forum at the QEII Conference Centre in London;

• representing the Falkland Islands at many high-level ceremonial and commemorative events in the UK, including hosting the annual FIG reception in Lincoln's Inn (and latterly Middle Temple), attended on occasion by members of the Royal family, and regularly by Government Ministers (including Prime Minister Cameron in 2012), senior military personnel, veterans and friends of the Falklands;

• liaising with opinion formers in the UK media and academic research institutions, participating in Falklands related conferences (as at the University of Kent conference on the Falkland Islands in 2012 and University of Manchester in 2019);

• helping Falkland Island artists and photographers to showcase their works in gallery exhibitions, road shows, and in Falkland House, as a way of presenting the Falklands in a more modern and realistic light.

 

Key Achievements

Sukey's greatest achievement as FIG Representative lay in developing close links with UK parliamentarians across the political divide to ensure that the Falklands' voice was heard and understood in Westminster – and not forgotten. As a Falkland Islander, she carried conviction and worked quietly behind the scenes in developing contact with individual MPs and Peers, making many, long-lasting friendships in doing so. Whilst she maintained a close working relationship with Ministers and Officials in Whitehall, particularly in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the experience of past decades had shown her that the only way of preventing the UK Government from ever overriding the wishes of the Falkland Islanders was to have the support of the UK media and an influential lobby group within Parliament.

Many commentators saw a real risk that the bipartisan policy in Parliament of supporting the Falklands following 1982 might be broken if a radical, left-wing Labour Government came into power under Jeremy Corbyn. His past comments and actions had suggested that he might offer concessions to Argentina in future discussions over sovereignty. It was a matter of personal satisfaction to Sukey that the 2019 Labour Party manifesto contained, for the first time, a reference to having “a duty to stand up for the security and sovereignty of our Overseas Territories, including the Falklands...”. The Conservative Party manifesto said: “We will protect the British people at home and abroad and also ensure that the democratic rights of people in Gibraltar, the Falklands and all our Overseas Territories are protected.”

Other achievements included:

• the award of an MBE in 2003 in the Queen's Birthday honours list, presented to her by Prince Charles, who had visited the Islands in 1999. She had a reception afterwards in Parliament, attended by many MPs and peers - and, as an unusual mark of respect and friendship, MPs signed an Early Day Motion congratulating her on her award;

• her role in helping to organise the special events for the 25th anniversary of the Falklands war in 2007, which involved a national commemoration on Horse Guards Parade Ground with live television links to the similar ceremony at the British military ceremony in San Carlos in the Falkland Islands. She was also involved in similar but smaller events commemorating the 30th and 35th anniversaries of the Islanders' liberation;

• her work in the UK Overseas Territories Association (UKOTA). First set up in 1994 as the Dependent Territories Forum following a successful conference in1993 co-sponsored by Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, it has developed into the key organisation to promote the interests of the Territories in their relationship with the UK. Following the UK Government's White Paper in 1999, UKOTA has helped to co-ordinate Territory input to the annual meetings with UK Ministers at the OT Consultative Councils (or Joint Ministerial Councils since the 2012 White Paper). Sukey held the chair in 1996-7, 2001-2, 2002-3, 2006-7, 2009-10 and 2015-16;

• her position in UKOTA also helped to co-ordinate input into the EU Overseas Countries and Territories Association (OCTA), agreed in 2000 and formally instituted at the OCT Ministerial Conference in Bonaire in 2002. OCTA plays a crucial role in influencing the programme funding under the various EU Overseas Association Decisions (OAD). This has given the UKOTs a separate channel to lobby the EU on matters affecting their interests, particularly on Brexit, financial services and environmental conservation;

• her influence in gaining greater recognition for the work of the UK-based Representatives of the OTs. In 2004, OT Representatives were invited for the first time to attend the annual Diplomatic Reception at Buckingham Palace. They now attend the State Openings of Parliament and other important State occasions, not least the Golden Jubilee celebration in St Paul's Cathedral and the funeral of the Queen Mother in Westminster Abbey. During her UKOTA chairmanships, she also pressed for OT Representatives to participate in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day; it had been the practice for the Foreign Secretary to lay a single wreath, made up of flowers from each Territory, on behalf the OTs. She was pleased that, for Remembrance Sunday in 2019, it was finally agreed that OT Representatives should lay individual wreaths as part of the official ceremony (albeit coming after her retirement).

 

Challenges of the Job

Sukey described the many challenges of the Representative's job as including:

• the difficulty of maintaining interest in the Falkland Islands in Westminster, Whitehall and more generally in the UK media at a time of other priorities, especially when UK policies might have a negative impact on FI interests;

• the problem of persuading home Departments in Whitehall to take the OTs into account when considering legislation and other policy changes. Too often the attitude was that the OTs were 'foreign' and should be the sole responsibility of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). Yet the legal position is that the UK, Crown Dependencies and OTs are all one realm (unlike Commonwealth countries which are separate countries even if they have the Queen as Head of State);

• the need to get across a more up-to-date profile of the Falkland Islands rather than one harking back to the 1982 conflict. The Islands have made considerable progress, politically, economically and socially, since 1982 and are now a modern democracy with a thriving economy; apart from defence and foreign affairs, the Islands are wholly self-sufficient;

• the constant requirement to counter the continual barrage of Argentine propaganda and particularly the historical myths (shown by careful historical research to be false) that Argentina parades internationally to support its sovereignty claim over the Falkland Islands;

• the difficulty in maintaining a sensible work-life balance. Sukey describes the job as a full-on 24/7 responsibility particularly when responding to media calls and emergencies. She always felt honoured and proud to have represented the Islands at the many official ceremonies, commemorative events and functions that she attended over the years.

 

Ongoing Issues

Sukey pointed to various issues that are on-going and/or remain unresolved:

• Brexit: a 'no deal' Brexit would have serious impact on FI exports to the EU (over 70% of FI GDP) without EU agreement to the continuation of the existing 'no tariffs, no quota' access to the EU single market for the Falkland Islands.

• Financial Services: the tabled amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, which would require the earlier introduction of public registers of beneficial owners of companies registered in all UK Overseas Territories by December 2020 rather than 2023, would have a negative impact on the Falkland Islands, which has no financial services sector (and is exposed to the risk of Argentine sanctions against companies doing business in the Islands).

• Overseas Pensions: the UK OTs are seeking equal treatment for UK pensioners living in the OTs. There is no level playing field. British pensioners living in Gibraltar or Bermuda have their pensions uprated in line with the State Pension in the UK. So do British pensioners living in the US Virgin Islands, but not if they live in the British Virgin Islands (or Australia, Canada or the Falklands and other UK OTs).

• OT Representation in Parliament: this issue was most recently raised with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs (see the FAC report HC 1464 of 12 February 2019) with some pressing for the right to be represented by one MP. The Falklands have always resisted this on the grounds that their representative can deal with all MPs; that having an MP for the all OTs, or one MP for each, would run the risk of bottlenecks if all queries and interventions had to be put through that person; that the OTs often had different interests and priorities which could not be reconciled; and that an OT Government of one persuasion might not wish to be represented in Parliament by someone with differing political views. Given that no political parties exist in the Islands, any MP selected would have to be an independent, thus reducing their influence in the House. An elected MP could also undermine the position of the official Government Representative.

 

Reflections on Retirement

Sukey has handed over to her successor, Richard Hyslop, who after a career in public affairs, had worked as Senior Policy Adviser in the Falklands (2018-19). She wishes him well in his new role.

It will be a time of worsening relations with Argentina, with the new Argentine Government returning to the confrontational policies of the Kirchner regime to divert attention from their deepening, debt-driven economic crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic will also be the focus of international attention, making it more difficult to keep the Falkland Islands 'on the map'. But the 40th anniversary of the 1982 war in two years' time will give an opportunity to present the Falkland Islands in a new, more positive light in the UK media, looking forward rather than backwards. Another Business Forum would showcase the Islands' economic transformation and the investment opportunities that a thriving economy can offer.

Sukey sees a continuing role for the FIA in this. It will be important for the Association to build up the network of members as 'Friends of the Falklands' and to highlight the realities of modern life in the Islands rather than as they were. She has a high regard for the FIA Newsletter; many people whom she met, particularly in Parliament, found it a useful way of keeping abreast with developments relating to the Islands. Sukey remains a committed supporter of the Association. She has also accepted an invitation to become a Trustee of the Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel, at Pangbourne College.

Sukey will treasure her MBE award and many other memories from her career, not least in being the guest of honour of a luncheon attended by all ten of the surviving former Governors of the Falkland Islands ('a plumage of Governors'). But pride of place on her mantelpiece is a framed photograph taken in 2002, showing Sukey with HM the Queen, when SAMA82 presented Her Majesty with a specially struck gold South Atlantic Medal.

Sukey was overwhelmed (and almost embarrassed) by the many tributes and presentations that she received on her retirement. She spent time in the New Year to visit the Falklands without the responsibility of her job and so avoided the sudden shock of retirement - “from hero to zero” - that can afflict others.

She will of course now be able to spend more time with her husband, Howard Pullen, whom she married in the Order of the British Empire Chapel at St Paul's Cathedral in August 2007. He has been a constant support at many of the functions that she had to attend. They plan to move out of London when circumstances permit but will continue to spend more, relaxed, time in the Falklands in the future.

Sukey remains a true and loyal Falkland Islander. Rightly proud of representing the Islands for so many years, she can reflect on a job most excellently done.

 

Sources

Interview with Sukey Cameron on 13 February 2020

Penguin News 25 January 2019

FIMCT Newsletter Article 2020

Merco Press Photos

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