Britain is ready to fight another war to protect the Falkland Islands, David Cameron warned today.
After months of rising tensions over the future of the islands, the Prime Minister made clear for the first time that Britain is prepared to mount a repeat of the 1982 conflict if they are threatened.
Asked if the UK would fight to keep the Falklands, he replied: ‘Of course we would.
‘We have strong defences in place on the Falkland Islands. That is absolutely key - we have fast jets stationed there, we have troops stationed on the Falklands.
‘I get regular reports on this entire issue because I want to know that our defences are strong, our resolve is extremely strong.’
Mr Cameron insisted that despite defence cuts, Britain would be able to defend the islands again, as Margaret Thatcher did in 1982 at a cost of more than 900 lives - 255 of them British servicemen.
‘At £35 billion a year, we still have one of the top five defence budgets in the world; and we’ll go on having that scale of defences and we’re actually re-equipping our armed services in a very, very effective way,’ he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme.
A war of words over the future of the Falklands, known to Argentina as Las Malvinas, has erupted since the re-election of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner as the country’s President.
The fiery Argentine leader attempted to thrust a package stuffed with documents about her country’s claim to the British territory into Mr Cameron’s hands in an encounter at a recent G20 summit.
To her fury, the Prime Minister repeatedly refused to accept it, insisting she should respect the views of the islanders who want to remain British.
Last week, as her popularity at home plummets, she published an open letter to Mr Cameron claiming that Argentina had been ‘forcibly stripped’ of the islands and demanding negotiations over sovereignty.
The letter was timed to coincide with the 180th anniversary of what Argentina claims is a British occupation.
Buenos Aires has been further infuriated by the British government’s decision to name a large section of territory in Antarctica after the Queen.
It has been accused of ‘intimidating’ British cruise ships near the Falkland Islands.
Six incidents have occurred in the past two months where protesters or industrial action by militant unions have disrupted vessels bound for the islands, the Government said.
They include officials refusing entry to Argentine ports or delaying ships, masked militants attacking and ransacking shipping company offices and cruise itineraries either altered, or abandoned, to appease locals.
The Falkland Islands administration has responded to the tensions by calling a referendum, to be held in March, which is expected to see an overwhelming majority of residents vote in favour of retaining the present status as a British overseas territory.
Lord West, the former head of the British Navy, said Mrs Kirchner was behaving in a ‘very stupid way’ over the islands,
He insisted that he did not think any military action was imminent from Argentina, despite her sabre-rattling, but warned the situation could escalate.
'It would be laughable if it wasn’t for the fact that these things sometimes lead to really nasty things,’ Lord West told Sky News.
‘I lost 22 of my boys down there and we do not want through stupidity and this sort of silly nonsense ending up in that position again.
'At the moment the Argentineans are incapable of and wouldn’t want to do a military action, but that can change very quickly.’
Dr Barry Elsby, of the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands, said: ‘We are not a colony - our relationship with the United Kingdom is by choice.
‘Unlike the Government of Argentina, the United Kingdom respects the right of our people to determine our own affairs, a right that is enshrined in the UN Charter and which is ignored by Argentina.’