Argentina doubles down on Falklands claim as war of words brews after Rishi Sunak says islands' status is 'settled'

22 November 2023, 15:21

Javier Milei has said the Falklands are Argentine
Javier Milei has said the Falklands are Argentine. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

Argentina has hit back at Rishi Sunak in a brewing war of words after the Prime Minister disputed new president Javier Milei's claim to the Falkland Islands.

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Mr Milei, a right-wing libertarian economist, was elected as president of Argentina on Sunday night, defeating current economics minister Sergio Massa.

The new president said in a debate that Argentina should have control of the islands, which it calls Las Malvinas.

The Falklands are a British overseas territory, which Argentina invaded in 1982, sparking a military response from the UK. More than 900 people died in the ensuing war, which resulted in the islands remaining under British control.

The population of the Falklands, which are 300 miles off the coast of Argentina in the south Atlantic, voted overwhelmingly to remain British in a 2013 referendum.

Read More: Falkland's sovereignty 'not up for discussion' Britain warns after new Argentinian president vows to 'get them back'

Read more: The Falkland Islands still matter to Brits no matter what the new Argentinian president or his dead dog thinks

Javier Milei
Javier Milei. Picture: Alamy

The British government hit back at Mr Milei's comments on the Falklands after his election, with Rishi Sunak saying that the islands' sovereignty was "settled" a long time ago.

Argentina's foreign ministry then said that the country has a "permanent and unwavering objective" to take back the Falklands, and that the government "rejects" Mr Sunak's remark.

Mr Milei, 53, said in the debate: "What do I propose? Argentina's sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands is non-negotiable. The Malvinas are Argentine.

"Now we have to see how we are going to get them back. It is clear that the war option is not a solution.

The Belgrano
The Belgrano. Picture: Getty

"We had a war - that we lost - and now we have to make every effort to recover the islands through diplomatic channels."

But Sunak's official spokesman said: “This is a long-settled issue and there are no plans to revisit it. The position of the Falkland Islands was settled some time ago, and will not be changed.”

Previous president Alberto Fernandez called Britain's control over the islands an "anachronistic colonial situation".

In that context Mr Milei's position could be seen as relatively conciliatory. He even praised Margaret Thatcher, Britain's Conservative prime minister who launched the UK military response to Argentina's invasion.

Mrs Thatcher, still hated by many for ordering the navy to fire on the Belgrano warship, was described by Mr Milei as "one the great leaders in the history of humanity” during his campaign.

Wellwishers waving British flags as they bid farewell to troops sailing on QE2 as it departs for Falkland Islands
Wellwishers waving British flags as they bid farewell to troops sailing on QE2 as it departs for Falkland Islands. Picture: Getty

An advisor to Mr Milei has said that the Falklands could be gradually transferred to Argentina in a similar process to Hong Kong coming under Chinese rule.

But Diana Mondino also said that the will of the Falklanders themselves must be respected.

"In such a process we can’t leave out those people who live in the Islands, we must include the interests of people living in the Island," she said.

A statement on the Argentine government’s website says: "The recovery of these territories and the full exercise of its sovereignty, respecting the way of life of its inhabitants and following the principles of International Law, constitutes a permanent and irrevocable objective of the Argentine people."

Falklands veteran remembers conflict

Mr Milei gained 56 per cent of the vote, compared to Mr Massa’s 46 per cent - the widest victory margin in the country since it returned to democracy in 1983.

The newly elected president told his supporters on Sunday evening: "Today the reconstruction of Argentina begins. Today is a historic night for Argentina,”

Mr Milei pledged to make “drastic changes” to the country and promised to deal with rising inflation and poverty.

The country is currently experiencing extreme poverty alongside 143 per cent inflation.

Dismantling the Central Bank, halving the number of government ministries and pushing the dollarisation of the economy are among some of his pledges.

“We have monumental problems ahead: inflation, lack of work, and poverty,” he told his voters.

“The situation is critical and there is no place for tepid half-measures."

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