Rishi Sunak has warned that the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands is not up for negotiation after Javier Milei,Argentina’s far-right libertarian president-elect, said he wanted to “get them back” through diplomatic means.
The British prime minister’s official spokesperson said the issue was “settled decisively some time ago” by the 1982 conflict in which hundreds of military personnel lost their lives, adding that the UK would “proactively defend” the islanders’ right to self-determination.
It follows diplomatic sabre-rattling during the election campaign by Milei, who won a resounding victory in the presidential race on Sunday, that Buenos Aires had “non-negotiable” sovereignty over the Falklands, the archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean known to Argentinians as the Islas Malvinas.
Milei, who has been nicknamed “El Loco” or the madman, reportedly said during a TV election debate: “What do I propose? Argentina’s sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands is non-negotiable. The Malvinas are Argentinian.
“Now we have to see how we are going to get them back. It is clear that the war option is not a solution. We had a war – that we lost – and now we have to make every effort to recover the islands through diplomatic channels.”
In an interview with La Nación, a daily newspaper in Argentina, he proposed that the UK hand over the Falklands to his country in a similar way to how Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
The populist politician, who has described himself as an anarcho-capitalist and is said to have lauded Margaret Thatcher – the British prime minister during the Falklands conflict – said the views of those living on the islands “cannot be ignored”.
However, in response to questions over his remarks, Sunak’s spokesperson told reporters: “The UK has no doubt about sovereignty of the Falkland Islands and indeed South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
“The UK government will continue to proactively defend the Falkland Islanders’ right to self-determination. It was an issue that was settled decisively some time ago.”
The defence secretary, Grant Shapps, said on X that it was “non-negotiable and undeniable” that the Falkland Islands were British.
He added: “99.8% of islanders voted to remain British and we will always defend their right to self-determination and the UK’s sovereignty.”
Royal Navy ship HMS Forth had been sent back to “protect the islands” in the southern hemisphere, he said. It follows a nine-month stint by HMS Medway to patrol the remote location.
The islands were the subject of a bloody conflict in 1982 after Argentinian forces invaded and briefly occupied the territory. The war claimed the lives of 255 British service personnel, three islanders and 649 Argentinian personnel.
Various attempts have been made over the years to find a more sustainable solution for the Falkland Islanders. However, since the 1980s conflict, ministers have been keen to play down any talk of Argentina having any claim to the islands.
They regularly cite a 2013 referendum in which close to 100% of voters on the islands, which has a population of about 3,500 people, opted to remain a UK overseas territory.
In July, Sunak hit out at the European Union’s “regrettable choice of words” after it appeared to have endorsed the name Argentina prefers. A diplomatic row erupted after Brussels referred to the islands as “Islas Malvinas” in a declaration jointly signed with Argentina and other Latin American countries.
The Falklands are about 8,000 miles from the UK and about 300 miles from mainland Argentina.