Comment: The Falklands referendum is an irrelevant PR exercise

Argentina's comments about the Falklands Islands are rarely right. The country's entire claim to the island is that of a pirate. It can be distilled to the most basic and barbaric concept in international relations: owning something because it is close to you.

But today we find ourselves in the curious position of hearing sense from Buenos Aires. They're right about the Falklands Islands referendum. The vote returned 99.8% support for remaining an overseas territory of the UK on a turnout of 92% (enjoyably, somewhere on that island are three people who side with Argentina and who presumably keep it very much to themselves).

The Falklands referendum is an answer to a question which was not asked. No-one questions whether the Falklands islanders want to remain British. They question the legitimacy of self-determination as the guiding principle of a territorial dispute. Holding a referendum is a prime example of answering the question you wished you were asked rather than the one which really came. In that sense, it is a strategy familiar to all politicians.

It will do nothing to change Argentina's claim. Already an ally of the Argentine president denounced it as an attempt to "represent the popular participation of an implanted population". It will not change Latin American or world opinion and it will not be recognised by the US. Its only positive effect is to lock the UK into protecting the islanders against Argentine aggression, which it would have done anyway, and as a piece of global PR theatre to remind the world what the islanders want, which the world will anyway pay little attention to.

The reason the referendum is irrelevant is the same reason Argentina's claim on the island is morally bankrupt. This has never been a debate about what the islanders want. This is about nationalist posturing, imperialism and the need for failing regimes to distract their populations with emotional bluster.

Argentina's claim is not based on the will of the people at all. It is based on the claim it acquired the islands from Spain when it became independent in 1811. Its description of the islanders as 'planted' refers back to dubious reading of events which took place in the 19th century. They are small and murky – competing claims about whether a garrison constituted a settlement which we needn't go into. Honestly, the closer you look at the competing British, Spanish, French and Argentine claims, involving only a few dozen people at a time nearly 200 years ago, the sillier it gets. Only a lunatic would give them primacy over the will of real flesh-and-blood people living in the present.

Everything you need to know about the Falklands Islands in five minutes

Argentina recognises that the people who have lived on that island for generations wish to remain under British protection. Competing historical claims aside, it is telling that this has no bearing on their position. Instead, this otherwise proud and civilised Latin American country has worked itself up into semi-militant hysteria over a bunch of rocks far off its mainland.

Reaffirming what we already know won't change anything. The referendum has no bearing on the Argentine position precisely because the Argentine position has no substance. Our policy tomorrow will, quite rightly, be the same as it was yesterday: dig in and refuse to negotiate. There is nothing to talk about.

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