James Cleverly has said he will visit the Falkland Islands to assert the UK’s control of them after a “run-in” with the Argentinian government.
The Foreign Secretary told an audience at a Conservative Party Conference drinks reception in Manchester on Sunday night that he would “make absolutely clear” that the UK supported the islands’ right to self-determination.
The UK government has been embroiled in a fresh dispute with Argentina since March, when Buenos Aires pulled out of a co-operation agreement with Britain and called for talks between the two countries over the Falklands.
The row has also inflamed tensions between the UK and European Union, which referred to them in July as “Islas Malvinas” – their Argentinian name – in a move Mr Cleverly said would “increase tensions in the region”.
On Sunday night, the Foreign Secretary said that in response to a “run-in with the Argentinian Government at the moment,” he would visit the islands to make the UK’s position clear.
“Some of you may have noticed that because they have an election coming, they are trying to do a bit of flexing of their muscle when it comes to the people of the Falklands,” he said.
“Now, I believe in the right of people having self-determination and the people of the Falklands have made their position clear and we need to return a Conservative government to make sure they and others around the world are protected.
“And just to hammer home that point, I am going to take the opportunity to visit the Falklands because I think it is my job to make it absolutely clear [that] it is only a Conservative government that can be trusted to look after the best interests of this country and those others around the world who rely on British good governance including, of course, the wonderful, brave people of Ukraine who are currently defending themselves against Russian aggression.”
Mr Cleverly would be the first British cabinet minister to visit the archipelago since 2016, when then-defence secretary Michael Fallon flew there to assert the “right of the islanders to determine their own future”.
Despite calls from Argentina for the islands to be given over, a 2013 referendum saw 99.8 per cent of voters there opt to remain a UK Overseas Territory.
A previous visit by then-Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire in 2014 brought angry comments and claims of “high-handedness” from the Argentinian government.
Last year, Princess Anne visited to mark the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War.
The row over the Falklands has escalated in recent months ahead of an election in Argentina on October 22.
In March, the country broke off a cooperation agreement with the UK and said that relations between the two nations would be strained as long as Britain refused to discuss its sovereignty over the islands.
Santiago Cafiero, the Argentinian foreign secretary, said the 1982 Falklands War “did not alter the nature of the dispute between both countries, which is still pending negotiation and resolution”.
In July, Mr Cleverly criticised the EU for its decision to refer to the islands by their Argentinian name in a joint communique from European states that did not include the UK.
He reportedly sent a message to Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, warning that referring to the islands would be “spun by Argentina as support for their cause, will require us to respond, and increase tensions in the region”.
The Foreign Office said it raised concerns about the declaration at both “senior official and ministerial level”.
Brussels nonetheless supported an Argentina-backed declaration that both EU and Latin American and Caribbean countries supported “the importance of dialogue and respect for international law in the peaceful solution of disputes” over “the Islas Malvinas/Falkland Islands”.
Argentina called the declaration a “diplomatic triumph”, and Mr Cafiero said Buenos Aires expected to “deepen dialogue with the European Union in relation to the question of the Malvinas Islands” following the pronouncement.
European officials said the UK was in no position to dispute its wording because it is no longer an EU member state.