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Chapter Two BRITISH APPREHENSION This assessment of the state of play in the dispute at the start of 1982 accorded with that held by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. Here it was recognized that matters were becoming more polarized between the Junta on the one hand and the islanders on the other. But ever since the previous initiative had been derailed at the end of 1980 there had been no long-term policy and, having seen what happened to Nicholas Ridley, ministers did not seem inclined to risk further controversy on an issue of, for them, peripheral interest. Over the previous year not only had Foreign Office ministers failed to agree on a course of action, but the British position had been severely compromised by policies adopted by other ministries. Foreign Office Policy Initially the Conservative Government had been decisive. The Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, took a view successive Foreign Secre­ taries had taken. He 'was entirely satisfied with the strength of our position in law'. But the islanders were wholly dependent on Argen­ tina. Argentina was a 'country with, in other respects, a long tradition of friendship with Britain'. On the other hand, The Falklands represented no vital strategic or economic interest for Britain, and although nobody had questioned that the islanders' Η British Apprehension views on their own future must carry proper weight it was clear that the only long-term solution to make sense must be one leading to peaceful co-existence with Argentina; while anybody could see that a protracted posture of defence against Argentina - if it were allowed to come to that - would be so intolerably expensive as to be an aberration of defence finance and priorities. The problem had to be resolved through negotiation. 'They had the emotion. We had the interest. We had to try." In the summer of 1980 it was agreed that the dispute with Argentina should be setded on the basis of leaseback, compromising with Argen­ tina on sovereignty but allowing the islanders a continuity of adminis­ tration and way of life. Later that year Nicholas Ridley, the Foreign Office Minister responsible for the Falklands, was dispatched to the Islands to ascertain the level of support. The response was unenthusiastic. Ridley did not direcdy propose leaseback. An alternative was to freeze the question of sovereignty in future negotiations with Argentina. Ridley made it clear that he did not think that the status quo was an option. The Islands were suffering economic and demographic decline which could not be arrested unless the dispute with Argentina was resolved. Although there was clear hostility to any negotiations over sovereignty, some islanders were prepared to contemplate leaseback. Ridley thought the numbers suf­ ficient to warrant pursuing the idea further.2 When he suggested all this on his return in December 1980 to both Parliament and the Cabinet's Defence and Oversea Policy Committee he was given a rough ride. In Parliament he seemed to equivocate on whether the principle of the paramountcy of the islanders' wishes still applied, and whether they would be backed if they opted for the status quo. 3 The reaction was a formidable demonstration of the strength of the Falkland Islands lobby and the instinctive distrust of manoeuvres apparently designed to force people who wanted ίο remain British into the hands of a regime widely regarded as repressive.* It was also a * The Falkland Islands Emergency Committee was established during the course of a visit to Britain bv four members of the Islands' Executive Council in 1968. It was re-formed in 1973 as the UK Falklands Islands Committee with the objective: 15 Context demonstration of the lack of sympathy for the Foreign Office's approach in Cabinet, a tendency that had constantly made it difficult to take on the lobby in Parliament. Carrington had discovered in an early conversation with the Prime Minister that 'this might be one of those cases' when she 'suspected a defeatist Foreign Office of finding ways to appease a foreign Government '.4 He found it difficult to get her - and the rest of the Cabinet to focus on the issue. John Nott, at the Ministry of Trade and then (from 1981) Defence, has admitted that he did not spend 'a lot of time mugging up my brief on matters surrounding the Falklands. I did not consider it to be of any importance in my life.'5 Nott's Ministry when asked by the Foreign Office in May 1981 for a 'short politico-military assessment...


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