This Christmas is my first opportunity as Prime Minister to speak directly to you, the people of the Falkland Islands, a place which means a great deal to the United Kingdom.
2016 has been an eventful year. For Britain it will change our future forever. Most decisively the British people voted to leave the European Union, and forge a new, positive, confident role for our country on the global stage.
I know people on the Falkland Islands have watched this event with a keen interest. This is a once-in-a-generation chance to shape a new future for our nation, to seize the opportunities it presents, and to build a stronger, fairer Britain.
I want the people of the Falkland Islands and other Overseas Territories to be assured that their views on how this affects them matter to us. That is why British ministers and officials have been engaging with your government to understand any issues and concerns, and to ensure we work with you as we seek a deal that is right for the whole of the United Kingdom, and our Overseas Territories.
For Britain, this new chapter brings new horizons and opportunities. But I also want to see a bright future for the people on the Falklands.
Earlier this year our Defence Secretary Michael Fallon visited you and spent time in Stanley. During his visit he paid his respects to those who fell in the 1982 conflict on both the British and Argentine sides. He also spoke to islanders about the potential for economic development, new jobs and greater prosperity.
As you know, throughout the year we have been working with the Government of Argentina to build a more constructive relationship, with closer co-operation on areas of mutual interest, including making progress on securing important benefits for you in the Falkland Islands. The Joint Statement agreed in September was a step in the right direction. We will continue to work with the Government of Argentina and your government to turn the commitments of the Joint Statement into reality.
We remain resolutely committed to your right to self-determination – on which you made clear your firm position in the referendum 3 years ago. A better relationship with Argentina is in everyone’s interests, and in time, I hope you will reap the rewards through benefits to your economy, improving trade and tourism, and developing your hydrocarbons and fisheries industries.
To this end, the British Government has also made further funding available so that vital de-mining work can continue. I hope this will open up previously closed areas in support of the economy.
Next year sees the 35th anniversary of the Falkland Islands conflict. As this important moment approaches, we continue to remember those who fought so valiantly and the 255 British Servicemen and 3 Falkland Islanders who gave their lives in defence of freedom.
I would like to express my thanks to the Falkland Islands Government for their support of work to identify unknown Argentine soldiers buried at Darwin. Your government has been closely involved in discussing the next steps on this sensitive humanitarian matter which will be led by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
I also want to take this opportunity to welcome the important work your government is doing in leading a cross-territory initiative on child safeguarding. And I was particularly pleased to see so many territories sign up to that initiative at the Overseas Territories gathering in November.
Britain remains steadfast in our determination to stand with the people of the Falkland Islands. And there is no greater time than Christmas to remember and celebrate the shared history and values that, over 8,000 miles of water, bring us close together.
I want to wish everyone in the Falkland Islands a very happy and peaceful Christmas and all the very best for the New Year.