Who are the Falklands three?

"No one will ever admit it," says one islander after just three (0.2%) vote not to remain an overseas territory of the UK.

It is votes like that on the status of the Falkland Islands that remind us why the secret ballot was invented. Of the 1,517 who took part in the referendum (a turnout of 92 per cent), 1,513 (99.8 per cent) voted in favour of remaining an overseas territory of the UK and just three (0.2 per cent) voted against. It was a result that would make even Kim Jong-un blush. Asked who the "Falklands three" might be, one islander told the Guardian's Jonathan Watts: "no one will ever admit it". 

The British government, unsurprisingly, has been quick to trumpet the result as proof that Argentina should relinquish any claim to sovereignty over "Las Malvinas". David Cameron said that the Kirchner government should take "careful note" of the result, while William Hague said: "I welcome today's result, which demonstrates more clearly than ever the Falkland Islanders' wish to remain an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom.

"We have always been clear that we believe in the rights of the Falklands people to determine their own futures and to decide on the path they wish to take. It is only right that, in the 21st century, these rights are respected.

"All countries should accept the results of this referendum and support the Falkland Islanders as they continue to develop their home and their economy. I wish them every success in doing so."

Kirchner, however, is in no mood to back down. Following the result, Senator Daniel Filmus, a close ally of the president, declared: "We must denounce this trickery that pretends to represent the popular participation of an implanted population. This publicity stunt has no validity for international law." 

The Argentine Senate will vote this week on a motion to reject the result of the referendum and to reaffirm its claim to the islands. "The United Kingdom lacks any right at all to pretend to alter the juridical status of these territories even with the disguise of a hypothetical referendum," the country's foreign minister Hector Timerman said. 

In the meantime, the race continues to find one of the three. 

Residents gather in Stanley, Falkland Islands on March 10, 2013, during the referendum. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

George Osborne's surplus target is under threat without greater austerity

The IFS exposes the Chancellor's lack of breathing space.

At the end of the last year, I noted how George Osborne's stock, which rose dramatically after the general election, had begun to plummet. His ratings among Tory members and the electorate fell after the tax credits imbroglio and he was booed at the Star Wars premiere (a moment which recalled his past humbling at the Paralympics opening ceremony). 

Matters have improved little since. The Chancellor was isolated by No.10 and cabinet colleagues after describing the Google tax deal, under which the company paid £130m, as a "major success". Today, he is returning from the Super Bowl to a grim prognosis from the IFS. In its Green Budget, the economic oracle warns that Osborne's defining ambition of a budget surplus by 2019-20 may be unachievable without further spending cuts and tax rises. 

Though the OBR's most recent forecast gave him a £10.1bn cushion, reduced earnings growth and lower equity prices could eat up most of that. In addition, the government has pledged to make £8bn of currently unfunded tax cuts by raising the personal allowance and the 40p rate threshold. The problem for Osborne, as his tax credits defeat demonstrated, is that there are few easy cuts left to make. 

Having committed to achieving a surplus by the fixed date of 2019-20, the Chancellor's new fiscal mandate gives him less flexibility than in the past. Indeed, it has been enshrined in law. Osborne's hope is that the UK will achieve its first surplus since 2000-01 just at the moment that he is set to succeed (or has succeeded) David Cameron as prime minister: his political fortunes are aligned with those of the economy. 

There is just one get-out clause. Should GDP growth fall below 1 per cent, the target is suspended. An anaemic economy would hardly be welcome for the Chancellor but it would at least provide him with an alibi for continued borrowing. Osborne may be forced to once more recite his own version of Keynes's maxim: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.