Sunday, 11 March 2018

More on Churchill and the European community

Barnaby Towns, a former adviser to William Hague, links the cinema release of The Darkest Hour to Winston Churchill's view (and that of later Conservative leaders) of Britain within Europe in an article in the current New European. He writes:

Brexiteers fondly quote Churchill – “We are with Europe; but not of it” – but don’t mention that he wrote these words in 1930, for an American magazine. In fact, wartime and post-war Churchill set the tone and precedent for a different conception of the British national interest in Europe.

From Churchill’s May 1940 offer of an indissoluble union with France, the text of which declared “France and Britain shall no longer be two nations,” through his support of Britain’s application to join the European Economic Community in 1961, pragmatic realism defined his approach.

In 1950, Churchill warned of “disadvantages and dangers of standing aloof” from Europe, stating that the opposition was “prepared to consider, and if convinced to accept, the abrogation of national sovereignty, provided that we are satisfied with the conditions and safeguards”. Critical of the Labour government for spurning the European Coal and Steel Community, the EEC’s forerunner, Churchill welcomed the 1957 Treaty of Rome establishing the Common Market, saying “we genuinely wish to join”.

It is interesting that in that speech on the Schuman plan (to set up the ECSC), Churchill also tackled the question of pooled sovereignty.

To win the war we agreed to put our armies under S.H.A.E.F., a great Anglo-American organisation that was for the tactical and limited purposes prescribed. No one would ever have suggested that General Eisenhower should have had the power to say what units of the British Army should be suppressed or disbanded, or how they should be raised or remodelled, or anything like it. All these remained questions within the control of the autonomous sovereign States which were willing to agree to a larger unity for certain well defined functional—I use the "functional" because it is coming into use—functional purposes. Surely, this is one of the points we could have urged, and even have made conditional upon our agreement to any final scheme.

It is simply darkening counsel to pretend, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman did, that by participating in the discussion, under the safeguards and reservations I have read, we could have been committed against our will to anything of this nature. I would add, to make my answer quite clear to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that if he asked me, "Would you agree to a supranational authority which has the power to tell Great Britain not to cut any more coal or make any more steel, but to grow tomatoes instead?" I should say, without hesitation, the answer is "No." But why not be there to give the answer?

Churchill's analysis highlights the chances we missed to help form the direction of the European Community, perhaps even the Treaty of Rome itself, from its earliest beginnings. Even though we joined late, we helped shape its recent development and we could still be a positive force within the EU if only this reactionary government would see sense.

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