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Chapter Nine THERESPONSE Britain Mobilizes News of the Argentine invasion came through to London haphazardly on 2 April, to the extent that Sir Humphrey Atkins, Carrington's Deputy in the Foreign Office, was still suggesting to the House of Commons that it was only under way when in fact it had already succeeded. A political storm blew up in London, with the Labour Opposition taking the opportunity to embarrass the Government on what was normally its strongest area - defence and security. Even during the South Georgia crisis, Government critics had seized on the fact that one of the more prominent casualties of the 1981 Defence Review - Endurance - was now at the centre of the drama that was currendy unfolding in the South Adantic. The point was made in a debate on 30 March on the Government's decision to opt for the highly capable D-5 version of the Trident missile which Britain was to purchase from the United States to replace its Polaris force. The Opposition argued that it was Trident which had made the 1981 review necessary in the first place.1 On news of the Argentine invasion, the Government was criticized not for its lack of concessions to Argentina in previous negotiations but for failing to defend British people from foreign domination. The mood was captured in a speech by Labour Party leader Michael Foot when he spoke to an extraordinary Saturday meeting of the House of Commons on 3 April: 121 Confrontation There is no question in the Falkland Islands of any colonial depen­ dence or anything of the sort. It is a question of people who wish to be associated with this country and who have built their whole lives on the basis of association with this country. We have a moral duty, a political duty and every other kind of duty to ensure that this is sustained.2 While the strength of the Opposition's attack may have discomfited the Government it also endowed any actions they might take to recover the Islands with a degree of popular support that might otherwise have been unobtainable. In the same debate the Prime Minister made it clear that the Government were not going to accept the new situation created by the Argentine action. There was no suggestion of negotia­ tions with Argentina: Ί must tell the House that the Falkland Islands and their dependencies remain British territory. No aggression and no invasion can alter that simple fact. It is the Government's objective to see that the Islands are freed from occupation and returned to British administration at the earliest possible moment.' It was clear that military force was not ruled out as one means of achieving this objec­ tive: 'The Government have now decided that a large task force will sail as soon as all preparations are complete. HMS "Invincible" will be in the lead and will leave port on Monday.'3 This had been decided the day before, after initial hesitation. As the crisis reached boiling point during the last days of March the Govern­ ment had decided against sending a task force made up of surface ships. It would take over three weeks to muster, could not leave without attracting attention and then would not be able to arrive in the South Adantic for another two to three weeks. So warned, Argentina might be provoked into just the response that Britain was now so desperate to avoid. The Ministry of Defence was concerned that a major response would need a carrier to provide air cover. If ships were taken away from their assigned tasks, problems would be created with NATO and the exercise could get very expensive, especially in fuel costs. When, late in the afternoon of Wednesday 31 March, the intelligence became compelling, Secretary of Defence John Nott asked to see the 1 2 2 The Response Prime Minister. They met, with Foreign Office and Defence officials, at her rooms in the House of Commons. A critical member of the group was Admiral Sir Henry Leach, First Sea Lord, who had gone to the Commons in search of Nott.4 Leach wanted to talk to the Secretary of Defence as he had become convinced that the view in the Ministry of Defence, including that of his own Naval Staff, was too complacent about the implications of the new information coming from the South Atlantic. When he arrived in the Prime Minister's room discussion was under way on how to respond to the...


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