The Hon Mike Summers OBE is a sixth generation Falkland Islander and one of eight democratically elected members of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly. He wrote this piece ahead of his Australian visit on 28 January:
The Falkland Islanders: free to choose our own future
My work as a member of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly has taken me to a number of countries, and regularly to the United Nations to explain why the Falklands Islands are British and have the right to continue to be British. My visit this week to Australia will be my first working visit here for several years. The last was in 2001 for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Darwin, Melbourne and Canberra during which time the attack on the Twin Towers took place and Ansett went bust. I am hoping this time for a more uneventful visit.
Certainly there are contrasts between your home and mine. At 51 degrees south, we’re further south than even Tasmania. Falkland Islanders live in a country of 12,000 square kilometers (similar to Vanuatu and East Timor) with a population of 3,000 people. So Australia’s size, and the scale of cities like Melbourne, which I will be visiting, is quite a contrast.
But we do have things in common. Our Commonwealth ties come from our shared historical association with Britain. We’ve since chosen different paths of course. You chose to form a federation in 1901, and came to govern yourselves completely. The path you chose has clearly been beneficial: Australia’s economic success and your reputation as a dynamic and vibrant country is renowned across the world.
For Falkland Islanders the right path for us is also clear. Our interests are best served as an economically self-sufficient, self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom. This allows us to take responsibility for the important decisions about how we run our affairs and ensure our prosperity, whilst the UK guarantees our security in the face of Argentina’s persistent and spurious sovereignty claim.
Last March, we held a referendum on our political status. We sent a clear message to the world — with a 92 percent turnout, 99.8 percent of voters chose to retain our status as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. There can be no misinterpretation as to how we feel about our relationship with Britain, a relationship that has evolved over centuries, and one that we are proud to maintain. Ours is a modern relationship, based on mutual respect and democratic values.
However, the way of life our ancestors established for us nine generations ago is being threatened by a country that seeks to redefine our islands and our history. Under its constitution, Argentina will accept nothing other than full sovereignty and control of our homeland, rejecting our inalienable rights to determine our political, economic and cultural future.
The Argentine government dismissed our referendum before a single vote was cast, and it continues to do so. It repeatedly calls for dialogue, but is not prepared to speak with the democratic representatives of the Falkland Islands. The Argentine foreign minister made very clear his government’s attitude towards our people and our rights when he stated plainly that the Falkland Islands people do not exist. Nevertheless all we desire is normal neighborly relations with Argentina, as with all nations.
We Falkland Islanders have opened a new chapter in our history, one that looks to the future and focuses on building our home for future generations. We will continue to resist Argentina’s attempts to damage our economy and will seek to grow it through the sustainable management of fisheries, tourism and agriculture, and we will strive to develop our oil industry in an environmentally responsible manner. We will continue to place the highest value on health and education and helping our young people to reach their full potential. In an uncertain world, this is, sadly, not a future we are currently able to realise freely and without threat.
I hope all those nations around the world who respect human rights and democracy, and who are not afraid to stand up for justice and freedom, will lend us their support, too. If we come under more pressure from our much bigger neighbour, I hope that we will be able to rely on the Australian people and their government to back us.
Mike Summers is one of eight democratically elected members of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly.
First elected to Legislative Council in a by-election in 1996, has been re-elected a further five times. Has served many years on Executive Council, and ten years as Chair of Standing Finance Committee. Key focus has always been the economy and foreign affairs. He was Chair of the Select Committee on the Constitution (completed 2008), and initiated the Islands Plan in 1996 and the Ecomomic Development Strategy in 2008.
Mike has represented the Falkland Islands internationally on numerous occasions, including at the 2013 meeting of the UN Decolonisation Committee in New York.
He is a sixth-generation Falkland Islander and has two eighth-generation grandchildren