Commentary (The Times)

Falklands: “Britain puts forward four options on Falklands” (Nick Ridley visit & leaseback)

Document type: Press
Source: The Times , 28 November 1980 (p7)
Journalist: Michael Frenchman
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 357

Britain puts forward four options on Falklands

By Michael Frenchman

There is good sense in some of the options which Britain is putting forward on the Falkland Islands, particularly the lease-back formula. Under this plan, sovereignty over the islands would be ceded to Argentina but Britain would lease back the islands, either without a time limit or for say, 99 years.

It remains to be seen whether the islanders will agree with this or any of the other ideas which the British Government is canvassing after having taken soundings with the Argentines. The dispute over sovereignty has gone on for more than a hundred years.

Mr Nicholas Ridley, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, who is having talks with the islanders, apparently believes that a solution may be achieved by outright transfer of sovereignty, by transfer and lease back, by freezing the dispute for 25 years, or by taking what would be a drastic step and breaking off talks altogether.

An outright transfer would be politically unacceptable. The lease-back idea, on similar lines as for Hongkong, is the one Whitehall has been suggesting behind the scenes for some time. A freeze would merely defer the decision. A break-up of talks would probably lead to a confrontation.

During the past five years the population has declined from just over 1,900 to 1,720 (a census is imminent). Most of them are directly descended from the original British colonists, others have, come to the islands since the colony was founded in 1833.

But more and more Spanish is spoken as Argentine tourists now flock to the islands.

Some islanders have over the past two or three years realized that there must be some form of diversification of income which can only be derived from economic cooperation with Argentina.

There is a rapidly advancing offshore exploration for oil. Half a dozen big oil companies, including Shell, Esso, Total and Deminex, are pouring some $300m (£130m) during the next three years into exploration in the waters between the Argentine Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands.

Leading article, page 15