PM prepared plan to hand over Falklands

Friday 01 January 1999 00:02 GMT

HAROLD WILSON'S Labour government considered a 10-year "transitional period" to pave the way for transferring sovereignty of the Falkland Islands to Argentina, according to documents made public for the first time today.

Official papers released to the Public Record Office under the 30-year rule show that the Foreign Office was anxious to convince the islanders of the benefits of a transfer of sovereignty. However, talks with Buenos Aires foundered on the entrenched opposition of the islanders, who were determined to resist any change in their status.

The talks, opened in January 1966, were treated with deep suspicion by the islanders.

In 1968, four members of the Islands' Council issued a public warning that they could be handed over "at any moment" to Argentina.

In February 1968 the islands' governor, Sir Cosmo Haskard, flew to London to seek reassurances from ministers about the direction the negotiations were taking. When he met the foreign secretary, George Brown, the depth of the islanders' hostility apparently took Brown by surprise.

"Mr Brown said he was exceedingly angry at the situation which had developed over the handling of the Falkland Islands' dispute with the Argentines," the minutes of the meeting noted.

"He could not understand why he had not been told before by the Commonwealth Office, that, in the Governor's opinion, we were going too far."

Sir Cosmo returned to the Falklands to reassure the islanders that those in authority in Britain were now "fully informed" of their feelings.

However, a senior Foreign Office official, John Beith, warned that by making clear that the Government would not move without the islanders' consent, they had reduced the chances of a successful outcome to the negotiations.

"It is hardly consistent with our policy of trying to persuade the Falkland Islanders to see the advantages of an early transfer to make so abundantly clear that we would not and cannot move without them," he noted in a memorandum toBrown's private office.

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