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Richard North, 20/03/2012  


Reynold News, 5 May 1940, p 3.  Click to enlarge.
Plans for Anglo-French Union and an eventual European Union were well advanced before the German invasion of France, and "enthusiastically supported" by then prime minister Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, the foreign secretary.

This has emerged from a newly re-discovered article in the left-wing weekly newspaper Reynolds News, unearthed from the Priestley Collection in Bradford University, where one of only two complete archives in the world is maintained.

The article, dated Sunday 5 May 1940, was published five days before German forces crossed the border of neutral Holland as the preliminary to the invasion of France. Then, the political correspondent of Reynolds News reported that there were already "sweeping plans" to merge the economies, administration and culture of Britain and France.

Previously, it had been thought that such plans only emerged after France had been invaded, on 15-16 June, days before the French government capitulated.

It is said that Jean Monnet, later known as "Father of the European Union", then sought to broker the Franco-British Union, as a last-ditch attempt to keep France in the war and bolster her government's resolve. His plans, it is generally held, were first revealed to Churchill at a meal with de Gaulle, either on the 15th or 16th June.

The offer of union was widely publicised in the British press on 18 June (see below) and the text of the "Monnet" proposal was read out in the House of Commons on 16 October 1940, specifying the creation of "joint organs of defence, foreign, financial, and economic policies".

This, however, shows its remarkable similarity with the proposal revealed on 5 May, when the key issues being discussed were the unification of fighting services and defence policy, co-ordination of trade and merging currencies, abolition of all tariff barriers, and the setting up of a joint supreme Cabinet for foreign policy defence, economic decisions, and "similar questions common to both nations".

Daily Express, 18 June 1940, front page. Click to enlarge.

Plans, at this time, were "in embryo", says Reynold News but it was anticipated that they would be put forward "as a basis for a democratic bloc" – a putative European Union - to which all states would be invited to join, whence "wide support" was expected.

Tory "propagandists" for the plan, said Reynolds News, were "more inclined to stress that it would "enable the two States to maintain military domination of Europe and will cope with expected industrial unrest after the war".

Although no other contemporary newspapers seem to have reported this development, some clues as to the existence of the earlier plans come from writer Eleanor M. Gates in her 1981 book "End of the affair: the collapse of the Anglo-French alliance, 1939-40". She avers that that the 16 June plan did not arise "parthenogenically", as had been claimed by Churchill. It had been "kicking around in somewhat inchoate form since the early part of the year".

The question of some sort of permanent union, she wrote, had in fact been taken up as far back as November 1939, at the behest of Arnold Toynbee, then director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. And while the Reynold News article does not indicate the source of the May plan, it may indicate that Toynbee's plans were much further advanced than has been previously realised.

Gates, an academic at the University of California, claims that by mid-June, "the necessary groundwork" for the plan offered by Monnet "had already been laid".

This independent corroboration is supported by academics Michael L. Dockrill and B. J. C. McKercher in their 1996 book, "Diplomacy and World Power: Studies in British Foreign Policy, 1890-1950".

Maurice Hankey as Cabinet Secretary (1921) 
From a study of their work, it can be taken as almost certain that the Reynolds News article was referring, inter alia, to the so-called Hankey Committee, set up by Halifax under the chairmanship of Lord Hankey, former Cabinet secretary and then minister without portfolio in Chamberlain's war cabinet. It had first met on 30 April - the Tuesday before the Sunday publication of the paper.

The plans themselves had been produced by Sir Alfred Zimmern of Chatham House, in conjunction with Toynbee and with Rex Leeper, a propaganda expert from the Foreign Office. The work was called: "A Draft Act of Perpetual Association between the United Kingdom and France", or the "Zimmern memorandum" for short. It had been on the agenda at the Hankey Committee at its first meeting.

The collapse of the French government meant that plans for Anglo-French union had to be postponed, and it was to be twenty years before European integration was again "enthusiastically supported" by a Tory prime minister.

This time it was Harold Macmillan, who started the process which led to Britain joining in 1973 what was to become the European Union. And that came about under another Tory prime minister, Edward Heath, the eventual transition to the European Union being agreed by yet another Tory prime minister, John Major, in the Maastricht Treaty.

With David Cameron showing increasing enthusiasm for what amounts to Anglo-French union, on the back of his support for membership of the European Union, we now have a line stretching back over seventy years, where Tory politicians have "enthusiastically supported" European integration.

Interestingly, back in 1940, it was Labour politicians who were suspicious of the integration agenda, leading to a long history of euroscepticism which was only reversed under Tony Blair. It may well return to dominate the Parliamentary Labour Party, and even win it an election.

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