The 1963 Cabinet Papers / Europe: France was offered deal on Polaris to remove EEC veto

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The Independent Online
HAROLD Macmillan dangled before General de Gaulle the prospect of direct nuclear weapons co-operation in an 11th-hour attempt to secure British membership of the EEC in early 1963.

Among the documents released today are papers which underline the lengths to which the British government was prepared to go to persuade the French president to change his mind on opposing British entry into the EEC.

On 2 January, less than a month before the breakdown of the negotiations, a top secret telegram was sent to Sir Pierson Dixon, British ambassador in Paris, authorising him to tell the French: 'We would definitely be willing to consider Anglo-French co-operation in the nuclear field when the Brussels talks are meaningfully concluded.'

The telegram emphasised however that the French should not be allowed to think that such a deal - involving the sharing of Polaris technology - could go ahead in the event of the EEC negotiations breaking down. Sir Pierson remained sceptical. He replied that he 'feared that General de Gaulle would swallow any bait we offer him without taking the hook'.

Macmillan had begun the year full of foreboding that de Gaulle would prevent Britain joining the EEC. In a 'secret and personal' minute to Edward Heath, the Government's chief negotiator, he warned that de Gaulle 'does not want us now in the community because he is in a mood of sulks'.

The Brussels issue was top of the agenda which Macmillan had circulated to his closest officials in the Christmas recess, warning them prophetically: 'A great burden will lie upon us all. I do not know when any government has been so beset by problems at such a stage in its life.'

There is a pre-echo here of his remark in his diaries after de Gaulle used his veto on 28 January that 'all our policies at home and abroad are in ruins'.

The one crumb of comfort for the British government was de Gaulle's use of his veto - which he had hoped to avoid. This laid responsibility for the collapse of the negotiations firmly with the French.