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1968 Secret History Friday, 8 January, 1999, 11:29 GMT
UK planned to give Falklands to Argentina
HMS antelope hit by an Argentinian missile in 1982
The Falklands War of 1982 might never have been necessary
The UK Government prepared a secret deal in 1968 to give Argentina ownership of the Falkland Islands, it has been revealed.

1968 Secret History
The plan eventually collapsed under pressure from the islanders. Had it gone ahead, it could have prevented the 1982 Falklands War and at least one Foreign Office minister from the time still insists it should have been forced through.

An Argentine draft Memorandum of Understanding, largely accepted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is one of the documents released after 30 years of being locked in government vaults.

Dated 5 July 1968, it reads: "The government of the United Kingdom will recognise Argentine sovereignty over the islands with effect from a date to be agreed."

Islanders' opposition

The document made no mention of the wishes of the islanders themselves, although the Foreign Office planned to issue a unilateral accompanying statement stating respect for their wishes.

For Falkland's governor Sir Cosmo Haskard, however, this was not enough.

He told BBC Two's Leviathan documentary UK Confidential: "I didn't feel it was my job to sell the islanders down the river, because, of course, I had become very involved in the country."

Against orders, he made certain the islanders became aware of the deal. In their determination to fight the plan, they quickly won the support of the Conservative opposition in the UK.

'Violent reaction'

A confidential minute to the then foreign secretary, Michael Stewart, on 30 July predicted the battle ahead but underestimated the will of the islanders.

"When we publish our intention to cede sovereignty of the islands to Argentina, albeit on conditions, there will be violent adverse reaction among the Falkland islanders," it said.

"The plan we worked out to counter this involves a minister arriving at Port Stanley a few days before."

The lucky minister chosen for this task was Lord Chalfont. He recalls the welcome ceremony that awaited him in the South Atlantic.

Argentinian flag burning
Argentinian anti-British feeling ran high
"From the distance we could see they were all waving Union Jacks and thought how nice and decent of them to turn out to welcome the Foreign Office minister in this way," he said.

"But when I got a bit closer I found it wasn't quite like that. I saw that among the Union Jacks and placards were signs saying 'Chalfont go home'."

Return to Britain he did - but the record of the Cabinet meeting where he passed on the views of the islanders remains secret for now.

Yet the outcome is clear: the deal with the Argentinians was ditched.

Lord Chalfont now regrets not standing up to the pressure and sticking by the original plan.

"I think we should have pursued this," he said. "Looking back it was one of our big foreign policy and political errors."

Further documents from the time also show senior Cabinet members had foreseen the potential of the islands to provoke a conflict such as the Falklands War if the issue was not resolved.

A secret letter from the foreign secretary to the Falklands governor states: "If we now go back on the Memorandum of Understanding we believe the resulting deadlock with the Argentinians would materially increase the risk of incidents and thus the security threat to the colony."

Leviathan - UK Confidential
BBC Two Friday 1 January 6.40pm

See also:

02 Nov 98 | UK Politics
18 Dec 98 | UK Politics
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