Falklands - Guy Opperman, Conservative MP, Blames Foreign Office For Contributing To Impasse With Argentina

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Guy Opperman Accuses The Foreign Office Of Needing To 'Step Up To The Plate'
Guy Opperman Accuses The Foreign Office Of Needing To 'Step Up To The Plate'

Anyone flicking through stories about the Falklands in the papers last weekend might be forgiven for thinking we were on the verge of having to defend them from Argentina again. Most think that's over-egging it, but the security and prosperity of the islands is undoubtedly at a crossroads.

A trade blockade by Argentina is choking the islands' economy, and many in Britain worry that in the unlikely event of an Argentine invasion, we wouldn't be able to defend it. Tory MP for Hexham Guy Opperman is leading a debate on the Falklands' future at Westminster on Tuesday, and he spoke to Huff Post UK ahead of it.

First up, what's your response to comments by General Sir Mike Jackson in the Sunday Telegraph, who said that if Argentina were to repeat its invasion of the Falklands, it'd be "impossible" to take them back?

My understanding is we have a sufficiency of forces there to ensure the defence of the Falkland Islands. Certainly that is the view of the officer commanding, the Brigadier of the Royal Fusileers, who when interviewed on Sunday made it very clear that with the submarine offshore, the various ships that he has at his disposal, the various planes at his disposal, and the runway that they have, that they are well-capable of defending the Falklands Islands.

But you can see why people are worried, when the only real government response is to say that they don't think Argentina could do it in the first place?

The government's position is two-fold, that the Argentinians do not have that capability and have a considerably inferior military force than we do, but also that to her credit, whilst Mrs Kirchner talks a good game, she has specifically ruled out military force. I think everybody would accept, however, that there's a lot of sabre rattling going on, and whilst that may be ruled out on the left hand, the right hand are saying aggressive things at the same time.

But it is quite out-spoken of General Sir Mike Jackson, you must agree about that at least?

I think an awful lot of military leaders are making the fair and realistic point that we do not have the military capability that we had in 1982. Successive governments have been in a position where they have refined that military capability for a variety of reasons, and nobody disputes his expertise on that. General Sir Mike Jackson, would, had he been asked the question, been very clear on this, that we're well-capable of holding it at the present stage, and supporting it. It would be a different matter trying to re-take it if we didn't have submarines there, and the several thousands troops we have dug-in very securely, with 30 years of knowledge.

You're calling for the forthcoming government White Paper on overseas territories to include more on self-determination, what's the thinking behind that?

That White paper should contain, for all the independent territories, a self-determination rule whereby provided a majority want to stay with the status quo they should be permitted to do so. Sadly this country has had a tradition where the whims of Whitehall have in relation to the Falklands in the past, and occasionally Gibraltar, hedged ever closer towards a position where the interest of the local people were not paramount. I don't think that's right.

I would like it set in stone, so we're absolutely clear as to what the position is. That would also accord with the United Nations convention which everybody is discussing at length on this matter. It would add a great deal more force if the House of Commons and all the individual independent territories knew crystal clear that the determining factor was the rights of the individual people.

And in the absence of a looming invasion, presumably it's the blockade which is the next biggest concern?

Frankly we need to get on better with the Argentinians. If they genuinely wish to take over sovereignty, they're not exactly winning over hearts and minds at the moment, are they? Sometimes there is a preconception that the Foreign Office aren't doing enough. I'd like them to be doing an awful lot more. It's entirely in our own interests because we all want trade to be improving with South America. It would not be a good idea if the British people came to realise that the South Americans are effectively blocking their goods.

That's quite stinging criticism of the Foreign Office...

Everybody in the Falkland Islands believes the Foreign Office could be doing more on this issue. They could be considering self-determination as part of the white paper considerations, and they could be an awful lot more robust in their negotiations and diplomacy with South American countries.

We would like a Foreign Office that fully understands the motivations behind the Argentinian view. That has persistently been their failure, whether it is in Argentina, or Iraq or other places, or Afghanistan, to have a realistic understanding of the political, historical and actual motivations of our foes or our neighbours.

I have great respect for the Foreign Office but they need to do their job better. They don't have an understanding of certain areas. We're asking, 'Why are Argentina behaving as they are?' ... the answer is we don't know. Because the Foreign Office haven't been able to tell us. I wouldn't be conjecturing as to what that response would be if I knew it.

As a backbench MP I get the overriding impression that the Foreign Office are occasionally insufficiently well-informed about the motivations of some of our foes or some of the people that we do business with. The Foreign Office have got to step up to the plate.

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