David Cameron accused Argentina of “colonialism” towards the Falklands and warned Britain was ready to defend them, stoking tensions over the islands 30 years after they sparked a war.
Speaking to the House of Commons on Wednesday, Cameron condemned Argentina’s increasingly strong rhetoric over the British-held South Atlantic archipelago, which Buenos Aires claims as its own.
He revealed that Britain’s National Security Council had met on Tuesday to review its military plans for the islands, saying he was “determined we should make sure that our defences and everything else is in order”.
“The key point is we support the Falkland Islanders’ right to self-determination,” Cameron told lawmakers, referring to the 3,000 residents of the remote territory.
“What the Argentinians have been saying recently, I would argue, is actually far more like colonialism because these people want to remain British and the Argentinians want them to do something else.”
His comments sparked a furious response in Argentina, with Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo telling reporters they were “totally offensive, especially coming from Great Britain”.
Foreign Minister Hector Timerman added that “obviously at a time when there are only remnants of colonialism, Great Britain, in an imperial decline, decides to rewrite history”, in remarks to the official Telam news agency.
The heated exchange was the latest in a long dispute over the Falklands, internally self-governing islands located 400 nautical miles from Argentina.
They have been held by Britain since 1833 but are still claimed by Argentina, where they are known as the Malvinas, despite its defeat in the 74-day war fought between the two countries in 1982.
Tensions began rising in 2010, when London authorised oil prospecting around the islands, and have spiralled in recent weeks as Argentina’s neighbours joined the dispute.
In December, South American trading bloc Mercosur agreed to close its ports to ships flying the Falklands flag.
And during British Foreign Secretary William Hague’s first official visit to Brazil on Wednesday, his counterpart, Antonio Patriota, made clear that all Latin American nations backed Argentina’s claim.
The imminent deployment to the Falklands of Prince William, the second in line to the British throne who works as a search and rescue pilot with the Royal Air Force (RAF), is unlikely to calm the waters.
Although the RAF insists his six-week visit is a routine mission, Argentina has said it is a “provocative act”.
The National Security Council meeting was sparked by the 30th anniversary of Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands in April, a government spokeswoman said, and concluded that “we have the right strategy in place” to defend the islands.
But concerns have been raised that Britain’s military would struggle to defend the islands from another Argentine attack following deep cuts in its defence budget.
Admiral Sandy Woodward, the commander of the naval task force that took back the islands in 1982, warned last year that the lack of an aircraft carrier and weakening US support for British sovereignty left them close to indefensible....