The dispute between Britain and Argentina over the Islas Malvinas has re-entered the news as the Pope, in a recent visit to his homeland, was pictured holding a sign that was captioned (in Spanish): “It’s time from dialogue between Argentina and the UK over the Falkland Islands”. Britain is one of the numerous other European countries that stubbornly keeps hold its former colonies despite the fact that they all claim to be modern democracies no longer clinging to their imperialistic pasts.
As well as the Malvinas Britain has another 13 ‘Overseas Territories’ which is the sanitised name for what were previously known as Crown Colonies. Not only is continued ownership of Overseas Territories preventing Britain from moving on from its colonialist past but it is financially detrimental to the British state. With national debt high and the government’s deficit the focus of much media attention, relinquishing these vestiges of Britain’s imperial past is also a way of improving the nation’s financial situation.
On the Malvinas firstly, I’m going to dwell on the standard anti-imperialist arguments because I personally think it is obvious that the islands shouldn’t be administered by a country around 13,000km away, but I do want to touch on a main point that is given by Britain’s closet colonialists to maintain the status quo. Saying that Britain ‘got there first’ isn’t a legitimate argument because, other than it being false because the French got there first, control of a geographical area isn’t determined by who got their first as we are living in a post-Enlightenment world where such a concept is repulsive to everyone (except in this case).
By the same logic Norway is foolish not for claiming sovereignty over Eastern Canada because Leif Erikson ‘got there first’, and define getting their ‘first’ because if it literally means the land is owned by the people who were there first I think some Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians, among others, might have a bone to pick the British. The Falkland Islands Government frames the current situation as analogous to the Spanish settlers who moved to South America, with the islands being descendants in the same way; this isn’t a good comparison as the omitted fact from this comparison that is crucial to remember is the Spain isn’t claiming sovereignty over the entirety of Latin America because those people are largely descended from Spanish people.
The anti-colonialist argument tends not to convince people that support British rule to give the Malvinas to Argentina but the same people often speak of ‘fiscal responsibility’ so hopefully the overwhelming economic argument will sway them. The Falkland Islands Government boasts that the islands are totally self-financing with the exception of military spending. However what’s not revealed is that due to the geographical position of the islands in 2012-13 the cost to the British tax-payer was £61 million.
Gifting the islands to Argentina would be economically wise and such funds could be spent on public services in Britain; if a transition was agreed ahead of time when British forces would no longer defend the islands and the Malvinas would be handed over in say ten years, the 1,500 people on the islands that aren’t soldiers could be given over £40,000 annually with the saved money which would be more than enough to buy a house in somewhere lots of people who say they are British live: Britain.
However as I have said the situation off the coast of Argentina is not the only territorial dispute between Britain; in Cyprus Britain currently has two sovereign military bases at Akrotiri and Dhekelia which is home to around 15,000 people. In the 1960 Treaty of Establishment these two airbases were created and ceded to Britain when Cyprus gained independence, which Britain believed were strategically important due to Cyprus’ position close to the Middle East and the Suez Canal. I think it goes without saying that Britain is not the world police and shouldn’t be having military bases in other people’s country, especially when their existence is against the wishes of of the Cypriot people.
Financially speaking the cost of all MOD sites in Cyprus in 2012-13 was £188 million, which would also be better spent in Britain, and the transition of the bases to the Cypriot government could be a part of a wider programme to create a lasting peace on the island, free from ethno-religious tension. Practically speaking if British military leaders are concerned with Britain not having a strategic outpost in the region, I would point out that Britain is (unfortunately) allied with Saudi Arabia which is actually in the Middle East, Turkey is in NATO and countries like Italy and Greece are both EU and NATO allies; Britain is not short of friends in the Mediterranean.
The final Overseas Territory I would like to bring attention to is Gibraltar, the little rock creating tension between Britain and Spain since 1713. As a result of the Treaty of Utrecht which brought about the end of the War of the Spanish Succession Gibraltar was ceded to Britain “in perpetuity”; unlike the water-tight argument of ‘finders keepers’ that is used for the Falklands, Gibraltar was by no means ‘discovered’ by Britain.
Gibraltar became a permanent settlement in 1160 when the Almohad (medieval Moroccan) Sultan Abd al-Mu’min demanded the construction of a castle; just over 300 years later the land was captured by a Spanish nobleman. This territory only has British people on it because the British killed and/or evicted the non-British population to build its naval base. As with the Malvinas, Gibraltar is reliant on the British government for its military defence, which in 2012-13 cost £53 million; I hate to make the same point but how much better would that money be spent on public services.
An argument that British people give for keeping Gibraltar is the Spain cannot complain because they have two similar cities in Morocco in the form of Melilla and Ceuta. This is a statement of fact however it doesn’t seem particularly relevant; surely Spain could say in response that Britain has another 13 Overseas Territories like Gibraltar so their two in North Africa are less numerous and the disagreement hasn’t been resolved. What would be a way of using this argument would be to return Gibraltar to Spain and then lecture Spain about Ceuta and Melilla; maintaining control over Gibraltar whilst moaning about Spain’s Moroccan exclaves only makes Britain look hypocritical.
The financial and anti-colonialist arguments together should be enough to convince any rational person that Britain shouldn’t have any ‘Overseas Territories’. In addition to the financial benefits, Britain would benefit diplomatically and would now give the government the diplomatic high-ground to negotiate and/or condemn other countries with unresolved territorial disputes. Only by getting rid of these remnants of empire will Britain be able to put its imperialist past behind it and become a modern, 21st century country, free from diplomatic disputes.