D-day: 75th Anniversary - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:47 pm on 4th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 5:47 pm, 4th June 2019

My Lords, a commemorative debate, such as we are having today, needs both to look back to the event being commemorated and to situate the lessons from that event in the context of today, never more so than in the present instance when the controversy surrounding the state visit of President Trump risks overshadowing the real and continuing significance of D-day. First and foremost, we should salute the courage and the sacrifice of those Americans, Canadians and others who joined our own Armed Forces in a truly unprecedented military operation that led a year later to the liberation of Europe. Let us face it: they saved our bacon and helped deliver a victory that we could not have delivered on our own.

Are we sufficiently grateful? I sometimes doubt it. For example, why have we not, as the French have so generously done towards our D-day veterans, honoured all those surviving? Should we not now be honouring all surviving US veterans of D-day? I think we should. In the context of today, we need to realise that the Anglo-American alliance remains as important to our continued security as it was then. This is easy to forget when the Trump Administration take a whole range of decisions contrary to our view of our national interest—for example, on policy towards Iran, on the United Nations, on climate change and on trade policy—and does so without paying much attention to our own Government’s views. But we must not let our criticisms of and our opposition to this Administration metamorphose into that ugly brand of anti-Americanism which so disfigured our politics 40 years ago. We must do our best to ensure that the NATO summit to be held in this city in December strengthens the alliance and demonstrates its continuing validity.

Then there are the lessons of D-day for our own place in Europe, of which we are an integral part, not just geographically but culturally, economically and historically. Our failure to recognise the full implications of that in the 1920s and 1930s contributed to our having to fight our way ashore in Normandy 75 years ago.

There are of course no direct analogies with the present day but we need to realise that no isolation-from-Europe option for our present predicament is available to us that will not damage our future prosperity and security. We need to remember that D-day was fought to uphold a range of values—democracy, freedom of thought and speech, and many others—that were eloquently set out in the Atlantic Charter, which was drawn up by Roosevelt and Churchill two years or so before D-day, and which then became those of the United Nations when that organisation was founded in 1945. Among a lot of loose talk in recent months about the rebirth of nationalism, we need to recognise that our compatriots died to uphold those values and we must not desert them now.