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The Top 10: Political Letters

After the Article 50 letter was delivered to Brussels, via Eurostar and in the briefcase of Sir Tim Barrow, our ambassador to the European Union, here are some other epistles in political history

John Rentoul
Sunday 02 April 2017 10:58 BST
Ilya Repin’s painting of the Zaporozhian Cossacks’ missive to Sultan Mehmed IV (1880-91). But will Sir Tim Barrow’s journey to Brussels last week get a similar treatment one day?
Ilya Repin’s painting of the Zaporozhian Cossacks’ missive to Sultan Mehmed IV (1880-91). But will Sir Tim Barrow’s journey to Brussels last week get a similar treatment one day?

Theresa May’s historic letter to Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, notified him that, under Article 50 of the European Treaty, the United Kingdom intends to withdraw from the European Union. David Mills suggested I compile a list of 10 more. Here they are in chronological order.

1. Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire, legendary and legendarily vulgar reply by the Cossacks to the Sultan’s demand that they submit to him, 1676. Painted by Repin at a time of Cossack revivalism. Nominated by Chris Bayliss.‏

2. The letter Benjamin Disraeli wrote to Robert Peel begging for a job in his government, which Peel refused to use against him when Disraeli denied ever having written it, 1841. David Mills.

3. The Morey letter, a forgery purportedly from James A Garfield, Republican presidential candidate, suggesting he was in favour of Chinese immigration, during the 1880 election, which he won anyway. Mr Memory.

4. “J’accuse…” Emile Zola, open letter accusing Félix Faure, President of France, of anti-Semitism in the Dreyfus affair, 1898. Nominated by Adam Behr.

5. The Zimmermann telegram, coded message from German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann to Mexican government proposing alliance to help Mexico recover Texas if US joined the war, 1917. Daragh McDowell‏.

6. The Zinoviev letter, probably a forgery, purporting to be from the Communist International in Moscow, signed by its head Grigory Zinoviev, to the Communist Party of Great Britain, published by the Daily Mail four days before the general election, 1924, and which probably had little effect on the Labour vote. Adam Behr.

7. “Peace for our time.” Neville Chamberlain (not “in our time”), the Anglo-German Declaration agreed with Adolf Hitler, 1938. Nominated by “Former Spad”.

8. Nikita Khrushchev’s two letters to John F Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis, 1962. Top tip: there are three hs in Khrushchev. Daragh McDowell‏.

9. The Canuck letter, a forged letter to the editor of the Manchester Union Leader, two weeks before the New Hampshire primary in 1972, claiming Senator Edmund Muskie, the favourite for the Democratic nomination, was prejudiced against “Canucks” (French Canadian immigrants). He didn't win the nomination, but other things were happening too. Mr Memory‏.

10. “There’s no money left.” Liam Byrne, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, to his successor – he thought it would be Philip Hammond but it turned out to be David Laws – in 2010.

Next week: More Twitter jokes

Coming soon: Famous people whose names are sentences, such as Britney Spears and Clive Staples Lewis

The e-book of Listellany: A Miscellany of Very British Top Tens, From Politics to Pop is just £3.79. Your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, in the comments please, or to me on Twitter, or by email to

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