David Cameron has responded somewhat cheekily to Pope Francis today, after it was revealed that the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires is on record for having said the Falkland Islands belong to Argentina.
Asked at a press conference in Brussels about the then Cardinal Bergoglio’s remarks, the Prime Minister said he should “respect” the islanders’ referendum vote. He added, tongue in cheek: “The white smoke over the Falklands was pretty clear.”
Mr Cameron said: “I don’t agree with him – respectfully, obviously.
“There was a pretty extraordinarily clear referendum in the Falkland Islands and I think that is a message to everyone in the world that the people of these islands have chosen very clearly the future they want and that choice should be respected by everyone.”
Last year, at a Mass at Buenos Aires for the 30th anniversary of the 1982 Falklands War, the future Pope told worshippers: “We come to pray for all who have fallen, sons of the homeland who went out to defend their mother, the homeland, and to reclaim what is theirs, that is of the homeland, and it was usurped.”
Argentine president Cristina Kirchner is reported to have already tried to recruit Pope Francis in her efforts to take control of the Falkland Islands and renew international pressure for talks.
But the Pope is highly unlikely to intervene in the dispute. Like Benedict XVI, he will try to stay away from engaging directly in the politics of his homeland, including its foreign affairs.
As Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict had made some of his views on foreign policy explicit, such as opposing Turkey’s entry into the European Union. But he never reiterated them as Pope, and even appeared to change his mind on the issue.
Pope Francis may choose to exert some influence through diplomatic channels, but any public support will probably not be forthcoming, especially given the recent referendum showing the overwhelming desire of the islanders to remain a British overseas territory.