Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Winston Churchill and a federal Europe

For some reason, Churchill's attitude to a community or union of European nations has come to the fore recently. Even after achieving what they claim is a decisive and permanent victory, Leavers have found it necessary to stitch together various one-liners from Churchill, from different contexts, and claim it is a coherent passage from a speech to parliament. This they cite as a clear declaration by the great man that Britain will always stand alone. (Remainers had been guilty of the lesser sin of quoting from a genuine speech, but cutting out a key sentence .)

This, from the online Hansard archive, sums up Churchill's real attitude. It comes from an adjournment debate on foreign affairs in May 1953:

Where do we stand? We are not members of the European Defence Community, nor do we intend to be merged in a Federal European system. We feel we have a special relation to both. This can be expressed by prepositions, by the preposition "with" but not "of"—we are with them, but not of them. We have our own Commonwealth and Empire. One of the anxieties of France is lest Germany, even partitioned as she is now, will be so strong that France will be outweighed in United Europe or in the European Defence Community. I am sure they could do a lot, if they chose to make themselves stronger. But, anyhow, I have always believed, as an active friend of France for nearly 50 years, that our fortunes lie together.

Churchill resisted the break-up of the Empire and cherished our Commonwealth links. However, if he were alive today he would surely recognise the reality of the situation, that we were no longer the Mother Country able to call on the unquestioning support of Commonwealth nations. He certainly approved of European cohesion. Earlier in the same speech he had said:

As I have urged for several years, there is no hope for the safety and freedom of Western Europe except by the laying aside forever of the ancient feud between the Teuton and the Gaul. It is seven years since, at Zurich, I appealed to France to take Germany by the hand and lead her back into the European family. We have made great progress since then. Some of it has been due no doubt to the spur to resist the enormous military strength of Soviet Russia, but much is also due to the inspiring and unconquerable cause of United Europe. We have Strasbourg and all that it stands for, and it is our duty to fortify its vitality and authority tirelessly as the years roll on. We have the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation, which has done such beneficent work in consolidating the material strength and sense of unity of European countries; we have the European Payments Union and there is also the European Coal and Steel Community, on which I believe we have observers.

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