DAVID Cameron today called on Argentina to take “careful note” of the Falkland Islands referendum which saw an overwhelming majority vote to remain British.
• David Cameron welcomes Falkland Islands referendum results
• “The Falkland islanders couldn’t have spoken more clearly,” the Prime Minister said
• 92 per cent turnout sees 99.8 per cent is islanders vote to remain British
• Argentina dismiss referendum as pointless and “illegal”
• President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has intensified political pressure for talks over islands sovereignty in recent months
The Prime Minister said the 99.8 per cent vote in favour of remaining a British Overseas Territory in a referendum held on the islands over the past two days was the “clearest possible result there could be”.
He said Britain would always be there to defend the islands.
Speaking at 10 Downing Street just hours after the result of the referendum was announced, Mr Cameron said it sent a clear message to Argentina.
“They should take careful note of this result,” said the Prime Minister.
“The Falkland islanders couldn’t have spoken more clearly. They want to remain British and that view should be respected by everybody, including by Argentina.”
A total of 1,517 valid votes were cast in the south Atlantic archipelago, a turnout of 92 per cent of the islanders eligible to vote.
In a virtually unanimous message of defiance to the Argentine government, 1,513 voted to remain under British rule, with just three - 0.2 per cent - voting against the referendum question “Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?”
The Argentine government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has made clear it does not recognise the referendum, insisting it has no legal validity.
However Mr Cameron insisted that the islanders were entitled to the right to self-determination.
“It is the clearest possible result there could be,” he said.
“The Falkland Islands may be thousands of miles away but they are British through and through and that is how they want to stay. People should know we will always be there to defend them.
“We believe in self-determination. The Falkland Islanders have spoken so clearly about their future and now other countries right across the world, I hope, will respect and revere this very, very clear result.”
The poll, which was ratified as “free and fair” by international observers, came against a backdrop of heightened Argentine pressure for negotiations with London over the sovereignty of the islands they call Las Malvinas.
Argentina maintained that the vote was illegal and “pointless”, and that islanders - an “implanted people” - have no voice in a dispute that must be settled bilaterally.
Nigel Haywood, governor of the Falkland Islands, said the referendum was a “massive demonstration of the way the Falkland Islanders feel and of the way they see their future”.
“Obviously it is a major principle of the United Nations that a people have their right to self-determination, and you don’t get a much clearer expression of the people’s self-determination than such a large turnout and such a large Yes vote,” he said.
The islands’ 2,563 residents did all they could in the lead up to the referendum to show their sympathies, waving Union Jack flags and dressing up in red, white and blue.
Dick Sawle, a member of the Falklands Legislative Assembly, said the vote should send out “the strongest possible message to the rest of the world about our right to self-determination”.
“The British Government is 100 per cent behind us and it will be our job now as a government to get that message out to the rest of the world and every country that will listen to us,” he told the BBC.
Argentina considers the “Islas Malvinas” to be part of its national territory, taken from them by the British more than 180 years ago, and Ms Kirchner took the issue to the United Nations (UN) on the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War last year.
Mr Sawle said the Falklands government had been strengthened by the vote and would now take the referendum result to the UN this summer.
“We will see more authority being devolved to the Falkland Islands government,” he said. “With this massive vote of the people behind us, this gives us this very clear mandate that we need for the future.”
Islander Lynda Buckland said the result was “absolutely brilliant”.
“It sends a message out to the rest of the world that we are British and we want to remain that way. My family has been here since 1842 and that is longer than most Argentines have been in Argentina.
“What this is all about is getting the rest of the world to realise what our neighbours are doing to us.”
Journalist Celina Andreassi, from the Argentina Independent in Buenos Aires, said the strength of the Yes vote had been “quite predictable”.
“The issue for most people here is that whether the territory is Argentine or British, not the people themselves,” she said.
“I really don’t think this referendum is going to make much of a difference... both sides are going to remain really strong in their position and we are probably going to continue where we are for a long, long time.”