11 APRIL 1998, Page 27

LETTERS No need for a rethink

Sir: Matthew Parris (Time to think again', 4 April) leans heavily on Dr Johnson in his argument that we should be ready to com- promise the sovereignty of the Falklands. But one rather important fact has arrived on the scene since Dr Johnson described the islands, namely the islanders. No British government is going to be able or willing to force them under Argentine sovereignty. The parallel with Hong Kong breaks down. For years now the argument among Hong Kong Chinese has not been whether they should be reunited with China, but how 'two systems in one coun- try' would work. The Falkland Islanders, whose ancestors came from Britain, are vir- tually unanimous that the islands should stay British. Matthew Parris mentions the Ridley initiative towards a compromise before the Argentine invasion of 1982. Whether some such idea could ever have prospered is now an academic question because of that invasion. General Galtieri, by attacking and then being thrown out, put paid to any change of sovereignty. Wherev- er you go in the Falklands you meet the signs and memories of that war, and the determination to stay British which results. Since the invasion there has been a big change. The Falklands have become pros- perous. The islanders are now economically self-sufficient, and indeed have agreed to pay Britain's defence costs as soon as they are able. Prosperity has also strengthened their links with their neighbours, including Argentina. In my time, we negotiated an agreement with Argentina on fishing; since then there has been a preliminary agree- ment on oil. There is everything to be said for the growth of this functional co-opera- tion, and the self-confidence which results.. It may in the end soften the opposition of the islanders to visits by Argentine citizens. But it would be a mistake to force the pace on this; and to reintroduce the question of sovereignty would set everything back. The growing links between Britain and Argentina are wholly to be welcomed. I thoroughly enjoyed working on these with the formidable Argentine foreign minister Guido di Tella. It is good news that Presi- dent Menem is to visit Britain. Argentina is to be congratulated on her success. But that is all a different story. The memory of a meeting in Port Stanley four years ago sticks in my mind. The islanders packed into the town hall bom- barded me with friendly but pointed ques- tions about British attitudes. It was a notable exercise in direct democracy. I know Dr Johnson would have thoroughly approved of the people in that hall: robust, down to earth, and — why not? — loyal. Douglas Hurd

House of Lords, London SW1