the folly of informal diplomacy

34 years ago my grandmother woke me with the news that the Argentineans had invaded Scotland. Even in that half-sleep state it seemed odd that a South American nation would travel all that way to attack the UK. I relocated to the living-room sofa to watch the Breakfast News, and I was able to assure her that the Argentineans had not invaded Falkirk; it was in fact the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic that had been invaded.

That invasion was precipitated by Argentina misreading John Nott’s 1981 defence review. The review proposed to withdraw the Endurance, Britain’s only naval presence in the South Atlantic. Argentina believed this signalled Britain was unwilling to defend the Falklands.

Misreading and misunderstanding statements are very much the history of how wars begin, and so it is important that we don’t give false signals.

In an interview published on the Argentinean embassy’s website, the outgoing Argentinean Ambassador to London Alicia Castro said that Jeremy Corbyn had visited the Argentinean embassy in London and was “friendly and humorous”. She went on to suggest that Argentinean Diplomats were told that Mr Corbyn wants a Northern Ireland-style power-sharing deal for the Falkland Islands.

In the vote in 2013, Falkland Islanders voted by 1513 to 3 to remain British. Is Mr Corbyn seriously suggesting this is the basis for a NI style power sharing agreement?

Ms Castro asserts that Mr Corbyn is saying that dialogue is possible and that attitudes are beginning to change, a NI style power sharing agreement can be achieved in the Falklands.

The Ambassador went on to state that the Labour leader “shares our concerns” and “he is one of ours”.

Her reading of Mr Corbyn’s position is supported by the fact that Mr Corbyn sparked controversy in a recent television interview, saying he wanted discussions on “some reasonable accommodation” with Argentina. He said that the islanders should have an “enormous say” in any discussions on their future, but Mr Corbyn stopped short of saying they should have a veto over any new arrangements.

Labour’s current policy has been made clear by The shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn. Asked whether he would support a plan for a power-sharing deal, a spokesman told the Sunday Telegraph: “No. The Labour Party policy remains that the people of the Falkland Islands have the right to determine their own future. Hilary is not aware of any proposals for what you have called a ‘power-sharing deal’ in regard to the Falklands,” he added.

Whilst it is most likely that Jeremy Corbyn wants to reposition the Labour Party’s policy on dealing with the Argentinean Government, he has not achieved that yet and in talking about such changes to the Argentinean Ambassador before consulting with his own party conference he is in danger of sending the wrong signals to Argentina.

The problem with Mr Corbyn’s approach is that he has had informal discusions about plans he has not even discussed with his party.  These are not the actions of a leader, they are the actions of a man who will go where he pleases regardless of whether or not he thinks his party will follow.

The problem though is not just one for the Labour Party, Mr Corbyn is giving signals that may well be misread, misinterpreted or just plain wrong.

If the Argentineans are led to believe that a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Government will not defend the Falkland Islands then we could end up with another Argentinean invasion of the islands resulting from bad diplomacy and wrong signals.

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