European Economic Community (Brussels Negotiations)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th February 1963.

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Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale 12:00 am, 11th February 1963

The hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) told us that he intended to speak for only ten minutes, and he gratified us greatly by keeping to his promise. We have just had the explanation as to why it was possible for him to keep his promise; he obviously handed part of his notes to his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Knutsford (Sir W. Bromley-Davenport), who was seated behind him, so that he could read out that part of his speech. Anyway, we prefer to have such a speech in two instalments, and I must say that the latter part of it which we have just received from the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford was not directly relevant to today's debate. The hon. Member proposed large-scale measures of suppression to deal with the Communist menace. I have always thought it rather strange that the same people who propose to deal with Communism start by behaving like Communists.

I will deal with the question before us, however, and refer to the speech of the Prime Minister. We were told a few days ago in another place by the Foreign Secretary that this was not an occasion, at the end of the Brussels talks, for new decisions and that there must be time for a pause. One verdict which can be passed on the Prime Minister's speech is that the pause continues. No one would take seriously that part of his speech in which he outlined the measures the Government would take to deal with this critical situation.

The Prime Minister was obviously more interested in turning to the other part of his speech, the political side. He purported to give some account of what had led to the crisis in Brussels and he reflected on the future of Europe when commenting about General de Gaulle. It seems to me that the Prime Minister, however he might disown attempting to do this, in every statement he has made since the conclusion of the Brussels talks—and this goes for many of the statements made by other Ministers, including the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations—has striven hard to make President de Gaulle the scapegoat for everything that has happened.

We have had the development about Princess Margaret, which was the first sign of the Government's reaction. The second line of Government policy in their second reaction was to say that we must consolidate still further the American alliance and prove that we can be even better allies of the Americans than we were before. These are the two deductions the Government have drawn, and one can say, therefore, that their reaction to the Brussels situation is a combination of pique and pusillanimity—the two worst foundations for any foreign policy.

Why did President de Gaulle take the action he did? It is worth remembering that, however we may dislike many aspects of his policies—and he has introduced an authoritarian constitution which may mean that when he dies the situation in France may be serious indeed—it would be foolish to dismiss General de Gaulle as a megalomaniac, an awkward anachronism or a Napoleon the Little. Even while we may dislike some of the things he is attempting to do, there is usually a reason or a purpose—or even a vision—in what he does, even while a part of that vision may seem distorted.

Thus it would be foolish for us to think that General de Gaulle has acted merely out of pique. As he has shown throughout his life, he thinks in terms of distant goals and there have been at least two occasions in his life when he has succeeded in reaching those goals, although many people at the time of his proposing them had thought them unattainable. For these reasons we should examine very carefully—certainly far more carefully than has so far been done—why General de Gaulle took the action he did and what was his motive.

We may be able to do this by looking carefully at his speeches, for I do not think that the Prime Minister has made General de Gaulle's reasons clear. The General declared at a Press conference in Paris that one of the reasons for his action—although it has all been smoothed over—had something to do with Cuba and the deductions which he drew from Cuba. We should not dimiss everything he says. He is a man of substance and we should be ready to consider what are his deductions about Cuba from the point of view of France and Europe.

He says, in effect, "In my opinion what happened in Cuba is this"—note, he was not protesting against the action of the American Government—"The action taken by the American Government in Cuba and in the Cuban dispute shows that they will act by themselves and not necessarily in accord with the interests of the whole alliance." We must bear that part of General de Gaulle's conclusion very much in mind.

If General de Gaulle had any doubts about that, there were many statements issued afterwards by President Kennedy regarding the Cuban affair. Some of them have appeared in the British Press, particularly those made at the beginning of this year when President Kennedy stayed at Palm Beach and thought about what had happened in Cuba. So when people talk about one man ruling Europe, President Kennedy's pronouncements would indicate to some people that one man might wish to rule the whole of the Western world. The Times Washington correspondent—in my view, the best informed correspondent in that part of the world—wrote that America's performance in Cuba could be … now seen as a text book example on how to deal with enemies and allies alike". That was the Administration's conclusion. There was also the report from Mr. Worsthome in the Sunday Telegraph who, having seen President Kennedy and others in Washington, wrote: President Kennedy is determined to make all the vital thermo-nuclear decisions. At moments of thermo-nuclear drama, the only meaningful division will not be between Americans and British, or Americans and the French, but between those in the White House and those outside. President de Gaulle can read these things as well. He takes the view that if America is determined to insist on being the complete arbiter of everything that happens in the Western Alliance, he is not prepared to agree.

It may also be that he was influenced by the speech of Mr. Dean Acheson. That speech was not properly read in this country. President de Gaulle had no reason for thinking that Dean Acheson's speech was not the view of the American Government, because a few weeks before the speech Dean Acheson had been sent to France during the Cuban crisis as the spokesman of the American Government. The most important part of that speech had nothing to do with Britain's rôle in the world. The most important part occurred when Dean Acheson said that in his view Germany was the steadiest ally of the United States. He went on to outline a programme for dealing with the Berlin and German situation, giving what amounted to proposals for creating a Cuban crisis in Germany and rolling back the Russians in East Germany. This was all in Dean Acheson's speech, but it went unnoticed in the reports in this country—it was not put in exactly those words, but the meaning was there and I do not think that anybody would dispute it.

However, surely President de Gaulle read that, too. He would have said, "The Americans say that they are to make Germany their steadiest ally; it so happens that West Germany is my steadiest ally and I will not have any interference with that." He could also remember for himself where the instigation for Britain's entry into the Common Market came from.

Many of us made the accusation during the period of the Common Market negotiations that the chief pressure for getting Britain into the Community came from the United States. That was pooh-poohed in many quarters at the time. We were told that we were exaggerating and that these were old fears which we had always had and which could not be true. But when the Common Market negotiations collapsed, in a matter of hours we were told that this was the destruction of a primary purpose of American policy. The explosion of American wrath within a few hours of the collapse of the Brussels negotiations was in a sense a vindication of the charge which President de Gaulle had made beforehand.

Has anyone tried to discover objectively the reasons why President de Gaulle has reached this conclusion? We have not been provided with reasons by the Government. We have been told that President de Gaulle has been guilty of a grave breach of faith, that he is just a twister or one man who wants to dominate Europe. Those are not satisfactory explanations, particularly when they come from those who were lauding President de Gaulle only a short time ago when he was committing much more serious offences, such as the partial suppression of French democracy. At any rate, they do not explain the facts.

Anyone who has studied the situation must conclude—and this is important for the future—that President de Gaulle is a rebel against American leadership. Some of us who are also rebels have some sympathy with him on that account. However, he is an old-fashioned nationalist and an old-fashioned European and he has expressed his rebellion against American policy in these terms. When he goes on to express it in terms of saying that he intends to have his independent nuclear deterrent, I think that he is pursuing a dangerous absurdity, just as hon. Members opposite are when they pursue the same will-o'-the-wisp.

However, the conclusions which the Prime Minister draws from this situation are quite inapposite. De Gaulle is seeking to wrest some of the power out of the American hands in Europe—surely that is not overstating it—and will continue to do so. He has been alone many times before and he will not be diverted from his course because the British Government does not like it, or even because the American Government does not like it. The more the American Government denounces him, the more will he be strengthened in his point of view, and he may think that the more he will get others to agree with him.

There are many reasons why people in Europe will agree with him, particularly if it is the case, as has been suggested, that one of his long-term aims is to secure a settlement between East and West in Europe. He shows more knowledge of history, certainly of geography, than some hon. Members opposite who have spoken today, because he understands that the frontiers of Europe do not end at and are not confined to the frontiers of the Common Market. One of his wise actions was the recognition of the Oder-Neisse line some years ago. He may be saying, "Eventually we must make an agreement with the Russians and it is better that it should be made by Europeans than by Americans." He may have some grounds for that, because the agreements or disagreements made by the Americans have not been so wise.

For all those reasons, in my opinion we are witnessing something much bigger than the collapse of the Common Market negotiations. The whole world picture is being changed. It is not easy to arrive at certain conclusions from it, but one can be absolutely certain that the conclusions drawn by the Government, especially by the Prime Minister today, are wrong. The Prime Minister draws the conclusion from the whole affair that the only course of British policy is to dedicate ourselves even more rigidly, with even fewer qualifications, to the American alliance.

General de Gaulle can see that the American alliance as operated by the Americans today is something that Europe will not swallow. It is the old story from "Alice in Wonderland"—if one goes on drinking from the bottle marked "Poison", it is bound to disagree with one in the end. There are some policies which the United States has been pursuing in Europe and Asia over the last ten years which neither Europe or Asia will swallow. The major policy of the United States in Asia has been the ostracism of China. Does anybody think that that is a wise policy? It is a major policy, nevertheless. I am not saying that de Gaulle is all-wise, but no one can say that the ostracism of China for the past ten years has been wise. However, it is to be the leading policy to which the alliance is committed in Asia.

The major policy of the United States in Europe since 1951 or 1952 has been to build up West Germany as the most powerful State in Western Europe, standing athwart any idea of disengagement and détente in Europe. That cannot be denied. It has all been written out and the Dean Acheson speech has underlined it. Having made Germany such a powerful State, the American view, according to Dean Acheson, is that West Germany is now America's steadiest ally.

The Americans' policy in the Caribbean, their Cuba obsession, and their apparent determination to overthrow the Castro régime, either by force or by starvation, irrespective of the consequences that may follow for the United Nations, which I believe to be the hope of the whole world, is another example. It is another major policy of the alliance to which we are committed.

I take my final example from this debate. How was it that the United States Government exerted such influence to press this country to join the Common Market, using all their diplomacy in so many capitals to try to achieve this result, without finding out what was the effect on their most faithful ally? Apparently, the United States Government, like our own, could not discover what President de Gaulle's intentions were. What has our ambassador in Paris been doing all this time? We are told in the newspapers today that he was the person who advised that Princess Margaret should not go to Paris. I should not have thought that anyone would take the advice of our ambassador in Paris, because he might have told us, long before, what was President de Gaulle's view about the Common Market. Surely, also, the Americans might have found out. Instead, during the past eighteen months, the whole power of American diplomacy has been used to try to force, persuade or get this country into the Common Market.

Yet, when we examined the possibility, as we did in the House last year, what did we see? The late Leader of the Opposition objectively and faithfully examined it, as, I am sure, everyone agrees, and he saw that the only terms on which we could join would be deeply damaging to the Commonwealth, probably deeply damaging to British agriculture, and even more damaging to any possibility of planning in this country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) outlined, at the end of his speech, some measures for arranging our priorities in this country in order to escape from our economic difficulties. With many of his proposals I agree. But we could not carry out those proposals in the Common Market. How does my hon. Friend think that he could have pursued all his proposals for ordering our priorities as he wishes in a Community where the economic policies would not be determined in this House and in this country? I do not think that even my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins), who is such a passionate supporter of the Common Market, would ever have dreamed of saying that the proposals of his hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke could have been carried out within the Common Market.

That was the situation. The consequences of joining the Common Market were found to be greatly injurious to the Commonwealth, greatly injurious to the planning of British agriculture, and, even more certainly, they would forbid all the economic planning measures which are so desperately required to enable this country to escape from its present position. Over and above that, they would have destroyed the independence in this country in its foreign affairs, and done so at this critical time. I have tried to describe the picture I see of the world. The whole situation is altering between East and West. The planet is trembling with alterations and differences in alliances and arrangements. I do not believe in the old configuration of the cold war which my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke described. It is out of date. It is five years, even ten years, out of date. The world is changing much faster than my hon. Friend understands.

I believe—this is certainly my hope—that the most powerful new influence in the world, alongside the power of the great nuclear giants, will be the great and growing power of uncommitted nations represented in the United Nations. This is the new power, the only hopeful power in the world, perhaps, although hon. Gentlemen opposite so often jeer at it and denounce it. It played a critical part in the days of Cuba. It played a critical part in the Congo. It can play a critical part in many other areas of the world.

Yet, if we had gone forward in the Common Market, our influence would have been injured at the very moment when we could help to shape affairs in this changing world, perhaps, more beneficially than for many years past. One of the reasons why I am passionately eager to see in this country a new Government who have no responsibility for the tragedies and errors of the past ten years is that I want us to have a Government who are prepared to look afresh at this changing world. This is what we must hope for. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, we must seek anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves. Therefore, so far from bewailing what has happened, as the Prime Minister did in his lugubrious speech, we may, whatever may have been his motives and reasons, thank President de Gaulle for doing for us what the British Government had not the courage and energy to do for themselves.