During the past week, I have looked on as article after article has appeared in newspapers proclaiming that if he were alive today, Winston Churchill would be a Euro-sceptic.
These articles are much more revealing of the state of British journalism than they are of the views of Winston Churchill. How can these journalists write with such certainty and arrogance about the views of a man who may have been dead before they were born? How can they possibly claim to understand Churchill's thinking when they have neither the time nor the inclination to study Churchill's speeches?
The answer is, of course, that they cannot, or rather, should not. They do these things, however, because their newspapers are dancing to the Euro-sceptic tune, and the purpose of their work is to put across this particular point of view, rather than to enlighten the public. I am glad that The Independent is one of a few exceptions that remain committed to a more traditional and ethical form of journalism.
I knew Winston Churchill, I worked with him, I stayed with him at his home at Chartwell and I have read his speeches many times. I can assure you that Winston Churchill was no Euro-sceptic. Can anyone seriously imagine any Euro-sceptic today saying, as Churchill did in his renowned Zurich speech 50 years ago, that our task "is to re-create the European Family, or as much of it as we can, and provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe"? He looked to Britain, with others, to create it and be with it.
I readily accept that at that time Churchill did not envisage Britain being a full member of this united Europe, but in gleefully seizing upon this point, Euro-sceptics have misunderstood or misrepresented the nature of Churchill's attitude to full British participation in Europe. This reluctance was based on circumstance; it was not opposition based on principle. And the circumstances have changed in such a way that I am sure Churchill would now favour a policy that enabled Britain to be at the heart of the European Union.
What is certain is that Churchill never entertained any of the objections that today's Eurosceptics hold to British participation in a united Europe. In the House of Commons debate on the Schuman Plan in June 1950, Churchill asserted: "The whole movement of the world is towards an interdependence of nations. We feel all around us the belief that it is our best hope, if independent, individual sovereignty is sacrosanct and inviolable, how is it that we are wedded to a world organisation?... How is it that we have undertaken this immense obligation for the defence of Western Europe...? It can only be justified and even tolerated because on either side of the Atlantic it is felt that interdependence is part of our faith and the means of our salvation."
It would, indeed, have been odd for Churchill to have said otherwise, for this was the same man who in June 1940, as France was succumbing to German invasion, wrote, published and proposed, with the full support of his War Cabinet, the Declaration of Union between Great Britain and France, stating: "The two governments declare that France and Great Britain shall no longer be two nations, but one Franco-British Union. The constitution of the Union will provide for joint organs of defence, foreign, financial and economic policies. Every citizen of France will enjoy immediately citizenship of Great Britain; every British subject will become a citizen of France." Unfortunately the French were being overwhelmed by the Germans and could not respond to his proposal.
Nor did Churchill agree with today's Euro-sceptics that British participation in a united Europe would represent a betrayal of our interests and commitments outside Europe. As a man who cared passionately about the Commonwealth, Churchill thought about this matter for a long time, before expresing, in a speech at the Albert Hall in May 1947, his firm conclusion that : "We may be sure that the cause of united Europe, in which the mother country must be a prime mover, will in no way be contrary to the sentiments which join us all together with our dominions in the august circle of the British crown."
Churchill was reluctant to embrace full British membership of the European Community only because he believed that Britain was the central pillar of a triumvirate for the maintenance of world order consisting of the Commonwealth as a unit, the United States and a united Europe,
This was a grand vision of Britain's role in the world, but Churchill recognised that it was wholly dependent on the realities of power. It could only work if the Commonwealth was a powerful political unit and if Britain could exercise significant influence over both Europe and the United States.
These conditions may have been met in the early post-war years, but the shifting distribution of power in the post-war world was always working against Churchill's vision of world order, and it was decidedly untenable by the time Harold Macmillan applied to join the European Community in 1961. Decolonisation, while laudable, had robbed the Commonwealth of its political cohesion; and the United States and the European Community, blessed with rapid economic growth and confident and outward-looking political leadership, were both now far less susceptible to British influence
In these circumstances, Britain could only continue playing the role in the world that Churchill had envisaged by joining the European Community. Churchill himself recognised this fact in a letter to his constituency chairman in August 1961, in which he declared, "I think that the Government are right to apply to join the European Economic Community."
Churchill would be the first to realise that in the world today, where an isolated Britain would be dwarfed by five great powers, the United States, Russia, China, Japan and the European Union, Britain's full participation in the European Union is vital, both for Britain and for the rest of the world.
British foreign policy has always been dedicated to the pursuit of peace, freedom and equality, ideals that Winston Churchill so eloquently and nobly advanced. The European Union represents the triumph of these ideals in Europe and offers the British government the opportunity to continue Churchill's work in advancing them throughout the world. We must grasp this opportunity with both hands.
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