I enjoyed the coverage, by Strange Maps' Frank Jacobs, of the recent naming of a chunk of the British Antarctica Territory Queen Elizabeth Land. Jacobs places it in the context of the changign role of the monarchy, the constitutionally problematic visit of a reigning monarch to a British cabinet meeting, and the conflicting territorial claims to Antarctic territories.
Her Majesty’s visit itself was on the shorter side: after 30 minutes, she left the Cabinet room, where the meeting went on for another hour. Upon leaving, she was presented with 60 lacquered table mats - one for every year of her reign - emblazoned with traditional scenes from Buckingham Palace. This could be construed as a bit tacky, but apparently the gift, paid for by a whip-round among Cabinet ministers, was suggested by the Queen’s aides. And, as Pickles (again) defended: “One can never have too many table mats”.
After her Downing Street visit, the Queen crossed Whitehall on foot with William Hague - her 22nd Foreign Secretary - to his Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Not to be outdone by his Cabinet colleagues, Hague then presented his sovereign with a gift the size of about 6.6 billion table mats.
He said: “As a mark of this country’s gratitude to the Queen for her service, we are naming a part of the British Antarctic Territory in her honour as ‘Queen Elizabeth Land’ […] The British Antarctic Territory is a unique and important member of the network of fourteen UK Overseas Territories . To be able to recognise the UK’s commitment to Antarctica with a permanent association with Her Majesty is a great honour”.
The Queen was presented with a stone prised from the frozen wastes that constitute her newest territory, roughly equal to the southern third of the British Antarctic Territory (BAT).
The BAT is situated south of 60˚S latitude and between 20˚W and 80˚W longitude, with those two meridians converging on the South Pole to give the territory its pizza-slice shape. It includes a handful of islands and the Antarctic Peninsula as well as the deep-frozen interior. Measuring 1.7 million km2 (660,000 sq. mi), the BAT is the largest of Britain’s overseas territories, but arguably also its least substantial. As may be gleaned from its main sources of income: a tax on the research scientists in the territory, and the sale of postage stamps.
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This year wasn’t just the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, it was also the 30th anniversary of the short, sharp war between both countries over a group of islands north of the BAT, and east of Patagonia, Argentina’s Deep South. To the British, and those countries that recognise their claim to the islands these are the Falklands, while the Argentines, and those that support their claim know them as the Malvinas.
The naming of Queen Elizabeth Land prompted Argentina’s Foreign Ministry to lodge a formal complaint with British ambassador John Freeman in Buenos Aires, expressing their country’s "firmest rejection of the recently announced pretension of the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland of naming an area of the Argentine Antarctic sector". As far as the Argentines are concerned, the naming is a reflection of "anachronistic [British] imperialist ambitions that hark back to ancient practices", an infringement of the spirit of the Antarctic treaty - and clearly linked to the fight over the Falklands/Malvinas. The previous slight to Buenos Aires regional ambitions was the posting, last March, of Prince William to the Falklands in his role as RAF search-and-rescue pilot.