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Churchill on Europe

The Untold Story of Churchill's European Project*


Felix Klos


London: IB Tauris, 2016

Paperback. 86 p. ISBN 978-1784537517. £4.99


Reviewed by Antoine Capet

Université de Rouen



‘Who is right in claiming Churchill’s blessing beyond the grave?’ Klos asks in his Introduction [1], in which he reminds us that both sides tried to enlist his posthumous support in the ‘Brexit’ referendum of 23 June 2016. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, former SPD Minister for Foreign Affairs (2005-2009 & 2013-2017), President of the Federal Republic of Germany since 19 March 2017, has no doubt – as he makes clear in another booklet on the subject, which goes one better on Klos in that he gives an unabridged German translation of Churchill’s seminal speech at Zurich on 19 September 1946.(1)

In his first chapter, Klos rightly recalls the context of the invitation, which followed his even more famous speech at Fulton, Missouri, on 5 March – now widely known as the ‘Iron Curtain’ speech though Churchill himself called it ‘The Sinews of Peace’. ‘A largely ignored and now forgotten aspect of the Iron Curtain speech was that it called for “a new unity in Europe from which no nation should be permanently outcast” ’, he triumphantly adds [10]. Yet, we may have our doubts. Klos is of Dutch origin: does he feel in his bones the ‘inborn’ (in fact ingrained by education) ambiguity which the word Europe has for ‘the Islanders’, as Churchill liked to call his fellow-countrymen? This is of capital importance, because all the discussion revolves around what Churchill meant by ‘Europe’.

Did he mean the geographical entity, with the English Channel a mere and late accident of geology, bringing to mind Shakespeare’s famous tirade on ‘the precious stone set in the silver sea’ and its ‘moat’? In fact, the more rabid insular ‘Europhobes’ prefer as we know to speak of the Atlantic Archipelago, separate from the European continental shelf – sometimes under the spurious politically correct guise of being ‘inclusive’ of the Irish. Or did he give ‘Europe’ in Fulton the same extension as in his opening words in Zurich:


I wish to speak to you to-day about the tragedy of Europe. This noble continent, comprising on the whole the fairest and the most cultivated regions of the earth […] is the home of all the great parent races of the western world? [13]


Here, it was clear that ‘the British race’ was part of ‘the great parent races of the western world’ – and therefore that the British Isles were part of ‘this noble continent’. But then, the concluding sentences of the speech, which famously culminated in his call, ‘We must build a kind of United States of Europe’, unambiguously indicated that his country would remain outside, since it was on the same superior level as the other two members of the ‘Big Three’ of 1945:


In all this urgent work, France and Germany must take the lead together. Great Britain, the British Commonwealth of Nations, mighty America, and I trust Soviet Russia – for then indeed all would be well – must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe and must champion its right to live and shine. [19]


These dismissive words seem to settle the matter: in Churchill’s mind, Britain would clearly keep aloof. But Klos has dug up new evidence – or rather unearthed old evidence in the Bern Federal Archives, in the form of a report(2) by a Swiss diplomat who dined with Churchill and his daughter Mary at their hotel on the night before, in which he told his Government what Churchill had answered when he asked him if he thought Britain would ever become a member of the proposed United States of Europe:


I have preferred not to stress that point, so as to leave the others the task of inviting us. One must not give the impression that we wish to control Europe, even though it is clear that only Great Britain is capable today of guiding her properly. […] Or perhaps you invite Russia first, which will refuse, and in that case Britain will be able to join. [22]


This report does not conclusively demolish the thesis that Churchill was against joining: it does, however, irritatingly re-open old wounds, notably the suspicion – very common on the Continent, at least in de Gaulle’s France, at the time of what was then known as ‘Britain’s application(s) to join the Common Market’ in the 1960s – that the British felt that if they did join the EEC (and not all of them were in favour at the time – there were in fact many staunch ‘Anti-Marketeers’) it would ‘naturally’ be to lead it. Churchill’s words before the Swiss diplomat of course reflected his well-known hierarchy of ‘races’, and they have nothing to surprise us. At the top, there were the ‘great parent races of the western world’: the white inhabitants of Europe – but at the very top, crowning them all, there was the ‘Island Race’, with its unique fitness to rule over less gifted peoples.


Another old wound has to do with ‘dilution’: Britain’s supposed policy of encouraging constant ‘enlargement’ in order to make Europe an ungovernable entity, and Churchill’s ambiguity in this field can easily be suspected in the three objectives listed in the Declaration of Principles issued on 16 January 1947 by the United Europe Committee over which he presided in Britain:


1. The final elimination of war can only be assured by the eventual creation of a system of world government.

2.The aim must be to unite all the peoples of Europe.

3. Britain is an integral part of Europe and must be prepared to make her full contribution to European unity. [41]


Klos makes much of the Albert Hall ‘Europe arise!’ speech of 14 May 1947 to a packed audience (10,000) mostly composed of British citizens who had to be reassured about the continued links with the Empire and Commonwealth [53], but somewhat surprisingly, he does not quote from Churchill’s best-known ‘Eurosceptic’ speech, when he reminded the Conservative Party faithful that Europe was only one of the three great circles to which their country belonged, together with the American alliance and the Commonwealth, at Llandudno of 9 October 1948. Even more astonishing, there is absolutely no discussion of Churchill’s failure to act decisively or even tentatively in favour of ‘joining Europe’ when he was again in Downing Street (1951-1955). The narrative abruptly ends with Churchill’s feeble defence in the 1960s before Stephen King-Hall, a former activist of the the United Europe Committee: ‘my party was too strong for me’, [59] he told him to justify his failure to pursue in office the agenda which he had so assiduously pushed in his first years in opposition.(3)


For readers familiar with the elements of the Churchill bibliography commonly acknowledged as essential, it is painful to see the garbled quotation of 1962, ‘I think that the Government are right to apply to join the European Economic Community’ [6], adduced to ‘demonstrate’ that Churchill was in favour of ‘Europe’. In fact, his private secretary Montague Browne (not in the otherwise copious bibliography, which lists far less relevant titles) tells us about the origin of the statement – which he released to the press because Churchill was no longer fit enough to write balanced communiqués – and gives it in full (which totally changes the meaning):


I think that the Government are right to apply to join the European Economic Community, not because I am yet convinced that we shall be able to join, but because there appears to be no other way by which we can find out exactly whether the conditions of membership are acceptable.(4)


For all these reasons, after reading Klos's predominantly one-sided arguments, the verdict can only be – as is always inevitably the case for ‘demonstrations’ that Churchill was ‘for’ or ‘against Europe’ – not proven.




(1) Europa is die Lösung : Churchills Vermächtnis (Europe is the solution : Churchill’s legacy). Wals bei Salzburg: Ecowin, 2016, 55p. In it, Steinmeier denounces ‘a Churchill biographer’ who has become ‘a spokesman for Brexit’ (evidently Boris Johnson) – ‘a particularly bitter about-turn of history’. He writes, speaking of the forces which try to sap the European idea:

Dass zu solchen Kräften auch so manchen aus Churchills Heimatland zählen, mit angeführt von einem Churchill-Biografen als Wortführer des Brexit, ist eine besonders bittere Volte der Geschichte [10]


(2) Cuttat, Albert. ‘Très confidentiel : Notice pour monsieur le Conseiller fédéral sur mes entretiens avec M. Churchill et M. Montag’. 22 / 9 / 1946.


(3) The late Professor Ramsden, from whom Klos got the quotation, is far more severe. He continues: ‘Churchill’s claim would be more convincing if there was any evidence that he had actually tried to achieve something different from what actually happened’. Ramsden, John. Man of the Century : Winston Churchll and his Legend since 1945. London: HarperCollins, 2002 : 319.

(4) Montague Brown, Anthony. Long Sunset : Memoirs of Winston Churchill's last Private Secretary. London : Cassell, 1995 (Indigo : 1996) : 274.


Illustrated edition in Dutch: Winston Churchill : Vader van Europa (Winston Churchill : Father of Europe). Amsterdam: Hollands Diep, 2016.



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