British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly says he will visit the Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands) to underline London’s support for the islanders right to self-determination.
The visit, which does not yet have a scheduled date, would likely raise tensions with Argentina, which disputes British sovereignty over the archipelago in the South Atlantic.
It would be the first visit by a serving official in the UK government since 2016, when then-defence secretary Michael Fallon travelled to the islands.
Argentina reacted strongly to the move, saying it would lodge a diplomatic protest if Cleverly makes the trip.
"We will be waiting for him with formal diplomatic protests and due repudiation of an action that is expected to be an unnecessary provocation that defies international law," said Guillermo Carmona, Argentina's Malvinas, Antarctica and South Atlantic Secretary, on the X social network, formerly known as Twitter.
Carmona said that "instead of accepting Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero's proposal for dialogue on a renewed agenda centred on the question of sovereignty and in line with international law, Cleverly chooses to continue compromising his country's damaged reputation on the Malvinas Question."
Cleverly made his remarks on the sides of the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester and said the decision to travel was a result of strained ties between the United Kingdom and Argentina, which have deteriorated since President Alberto Fernández’s government took office in 2019.
In March earlier this year, Cafiero announced that Argentina would withdraw from a 2016 treaty and cooperation agreement between the nations, saying it "detrimental" to the country's sovereignty claim.
"Some of you may have noticed that because there are elections coming up [in Argentina], they’re trying to do a bit of flexing of their muscles when it comes to the people of the Falklands," Cleverly said, using the British name for the islands.
““Now I believe in the right of people having (sic) self determination. The people of the islands have made their position clear and we need to return a Conservative Government to make clear that they and others around the world are protected," the politician said in a video published by several UK media outlets.
“And just to hammer home that point I’m going to visit the Falklands, because I believe it is my job to make it absolutely clear that a Conservative government – and it’s 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 and brave people of Ukraine who are currently defending themselves against Russian aggression," declared Cleverly, who said he had “a bit of a run-in” with Argentina’s government.
The UK foreign secretary’s possible visit would not be welcomed by Buenos Aires, though there could be a new president and administration in place by the time it comes around.
The country holds general elections on October 22 and two of three leading presidential candidates would likely seek warmer ties with Britain.
The last visit by a British foreign secretary to the islands took place in 2014, when fellow Conservative Party MP Hugo Swire, travelled to the territory, provoking a diplomatic complaint from Argentina.
Last year, Princess Anne visited the islands to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Malvinas/Falklands War.
Argentina, then under a military dictatorship, and Britain fought a brief war in 1982 over sovereignty of the islands. After 74 days of fighting that left 649 Argentines and 255 British soldiers dead, London regained control of the South Atlantic archipelago it has occupied since 1833.
Forty years later, the claim to sovereignty over the Malvinas is still active, uniting Argentines for whom the war remains an open wound.
A 1965 United Nations resolution requires Argentina and the UK to enter into direct negotiations over the sovereignty of the islands, which has been disputed since 1833.
However, London has refused to open talks, saying it cannot start such negotiations because 99.8 percent of the population of the islands voted overwhelmingly in a referendum in 2013 in favour of retaining membership of the British crown.
The UK government therefore argues that any talks must be approved by the inhabitants of the islands, an argument rejected by Buenos Aires.
Argentina argues that the islands, inherited from the Spanish crown after independence, were occupied by British troops in 1833.