Karin Smyth and Wes Streeting: Why we must honour the Britons who fell while fighting for the Falklands 35 years ago

This weekend marks the 35th anniversary of the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina and the outbreak of the Falklands War. Recently we undertook the 16,000 mile round trip to the islands in the South Atlantic to pay our respects, and those of the Labour Party, to those whose service and sacrifice secured the self-determination of the Falkland Islanders and to learn more about the legacy of that success.

We approached our visit to the Falklands from different perspectives, but both through the prism of the Falklands War. For a 17 year-old Karin, the war represented a formative political event whilst for Wes, born a year after the war ended in 1983, the Falklands represented pages from the history book.

The Falkland Islands are an archipelago of around 700 islands, covering a land area roughly the size of Northern Ireland, and are home to around 3,000 people.

During our visit we were able to hear first-hand from the people who lived through the war: from the Islanders held in squalid conditions by the occupying Argentine forces, to the veterans from the Welsh Guards and Royal Marines, who liberated them – some of whom were returning to the scene of battle for the first time since 1982. “Liberty Lodge” provides dedicated accommodation provided by the Islanders to welcome veterans back to visit. Hearing their recollections and current thoughts conveyed eloquently and robustly was humbling and heartening. And we were given an expert battlefield tour of Mount Tumbledown by Tony Smith who had been a 20 year old West Falklander in 1982 and has since taken part in several documentaries about the conflict and met several British veterans as well as Argentinians in the ensuing years.

Most importantly, our visit was an opportunity to learn more about what it was that our armed forces fought for in 1982: the self-determination of the Islanders and the strong community they have built since.

Since 1982, the Falkland Islands economy has grown rapidly. Since 1998 the Islands have been entirely self-sufficient in every area except defence, where the UK maintains a defensive posture. They have a thriving fishing industry, which provides Europe with two thirds of its calamari. Agriculture remains a significant part of the Islands economy and over 60,000 tourists visit the Islands each year to experience the beauty of the landscapes, penguins and over 160 unique plant species.

Throughout our visit, we met Islanders from all walks of life – school children, fisherman, farmers and service personnel – as well as members of the Legislative Assembly and the Governor. They felt a strong pride in their identities as Falkland Islanders and as part of the UK.

The trip also included visits to a hospital, the museum and a school – including an interesting Q&A with year 10 students. We were also given a tour of the military base, meeting the commander, and seeing the Navy patrol vessel HMS Enterprise and a Typhoon jet fighter.

As Labour MPs we feel a particular responsibility to make sure that the concerns of the Falkland Islanders are heard by the UK government, particularly in relation to Brexit, and that the commitment of the UK to the self-determination of the Islanders remains absolute. The Falkland Islands fisheries are particularly concerned about the impact of Brexit on their trade with the European Union. The UK government has an important role to play in ensuring better internet connectivity for the Islanders and to increase the number of flights into the Islands. There are opportunities for the Ministry of Defence around procurement and shared infrastructure – from catering to waste management.

It’s clear that 35 years on from the landmark war, the Falkland Islands face an important stage in their development, with a clear generational divide on how the Islands should develop over the next 35 years. Later this year, in November, there will be elections for Falkland assembly members and these, coupled with ongoing Brexit discussions, will shape the Islands’ future.

We were proud to lay a wreath, on behalf of the UK Labour Party, commemorating those who had fallen and served in 1982. They can be proud of what the Falkland Islands have achieved thanks to their service and sacrifice. Thirty-five years on, we must maintain our absolute commitment to honouring that sacrifice by defending the Falkland Islands’ self-determination and promoting their prosperity in the 35 years ahead.

Karin Smyth is MP for Bristol South and Wes Streeting is MP for Ilford North.

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