By Robert-Jan Bartunek
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Argentina believes Brexit might cost Britain the support of European allies for its control of the Falkland Islands and is watching developments closely, the Argentinian foreign minister said in Brussels.
Visiting the EU capital for trade talks on Thursday, Susana Malcorra stressed it was too soon to say whether Britain quitting the bloc may soften Union backing for London against an 18th-century claim to the South Atlantic islands that Buenos Aires has maintained despite losing a brief war there in 1982.
“The European Union, through its agreements, is connected very closely and strongly to the United Kingdom,” Malcorra told reporters when asked if Brexit could have an impact on the Falklands dispute, on which the 16-month-old administration of President Mauricio Macri has taken a more conciliatory approach.
“It could be that things change there. But I think it is still quite early. Brexit is just starting and there are many issues. We are following it carefully.”
A spokesman for the EU’s foreign policy service declined comment on whether the bloc might change policy on the Falklands, which receive some development funding from Brussels.
Argentina’s interest in potential fallout for the islands it calls the Malvinas after Britain’s vote last year to leave the EU is part of broader uncertainty for outlying territories of what was once the world’s biggest empire.
The people of Gibraltar, on the south coast of Spain, fear economic upheaval once they are placed outside the EU’s external border when Britain leaves the Union, in March 2019.
Britain’s right-wing press fulminated last month against EU plans to spell out that fellow member Madrid, which claims sovereignty over “The Rock”, should have a veto over applying any future EU-UK free trade deal to Gibraltar.
A former leader of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative party even suggested she would be ready to send a fleet to defend it from Spain – just as her predecessor Margaret Thatcher did to drive Argentinian troops from the Falklands.
Closer to home, British-ruled Northern Ireland, whose people voted against Brexit, are concerned a new UK-EU border there could rekindle violence. Separatists want a vote to reunite the island, a century after the Irish Republic broke with London.
And in Britain itself, the government of Scotland wants a new referendum to end the 310-year-old union with England so that Scots can remain in, or later rejoin, the European Union.
(Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Alison Williams)