It’s the end of December, and that means only one thing for hacks keen to find a historic angle on the news: the release of Government information previously embargoed under the thirty year rule. So now we are able to see what Margaret Thatcher and her ministers were up to in 1982, and much of that has to do with the conflict over the Falkland Islands.
But here a problem enters: not only do we know what happened, but we also know the minutiae of the Argentine junta and its decision making process, the stance of the Reagan administration, the various attempts at mediation, the effect on domestic UK politics, the involvement of the United Nations and NATO, and not least the role of what is now the EU in assisting the British cause.
However – and with the Fourth Estate there is inevitably a however – the press has pages to fill and an often Europhobic agenda to follow, and so after pausing to note that the USA was not always totally in our corner at the time (Ronnie and his pals had to make sure they kept everyone in Central and South America on side, so the Special Relationship wasn’t so special), the fire is turned on the French.
Why so? Well, the now infamous Exocet missiles were part of France’s arms industry, and they were horribly effective when it came to being loosed off from aircraft, potting a British warship and a container ship (the only saving grace in the latter case being that the Argentine pilot thought he’d got one of our aircraft carriers). The UK’s diplomatic effort was directed to stopping them getting more of the things.
And that effort was successful: no more air launch Exocets got through to Argentina during the course of the conflict, and they only had five of them in the first place. This, though, is not good enough for the press, so readers are told of “Maggie’s war with treacherous Mitterand over Exocet missile” (Mail) and “Thatcher’s blistering attack on French over Exocets during Falklands” (Telegraph).
But there was no treachery: the correspondence unearthed today is no more than a storm in a teacup. The Mail shows this when it concedes “At the start of the conflict, Mitterrand had declared an embargo on French arms sales and assistance to Argentina and allowed the British fleet to use French port facilities in West Africa” which does not exactly smack of treachery.
The article goes on: “He also aided British efforts to stop Argentina acquiring Exocets on the world's arms market and provided detailed information about planes and weaponry France had sold to Argentina”. And what neither Mail, Telegraph nor Sun mention is that France did what it did not because of the entente cordiale, but mainly because we were both EU member states.
But no good can come out of the EU, so it’s not mentioned. No change there, then.