Winston Churchill: a champion of European unity

The last few days have seen one of the two anti-EU campaigns trying to use Churchill to their advantage, provoking outrage from his family.

It is indeed a damn cheek, because Churchill was both an initiator and a strong supporter of the creation of what became the European Union.

Eurosceptics like to quote Churchill’s speech in Zurich in 1946, in which, straight after the war, he called for a United States of Europe under Franco-German leadership. He said:

I am now going to say something which will astonish you. The first step in the re-creation of the European family must be a partnership between France and Germany.

But he also said at the time – and that is why Eurosceptics quote it – that this European unity would be without Britain:

We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked, but not combined. We are interested and associated, but not absorbed.

But Churchill quickly moved on from this initial view. As the first steps to European unity were taken, and as the new realities of Britain’s shrunken role in the world sank in, he changed his position. He advocated the creation of a united Europe that would include Britain. He lent his considerable personal prestige to the Hague Congress of the European Movement in 1948, where he called for the 16 democratic European countries to start building Europe, aiming at nothing less than the union of Europe as a whole:

including Great Britain, linked with her Empire and Commonwealth

In Strasbourg, in 1949, he said to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe:

We are engaged in the process of creating a European unit in the world.”

He supported the Parliamentary Assembly drafting European constitutional proposals, even quoting Napoleon in saying that “a constitution must be short and obscure”.

In 1950, he used the same platform to call for

the immediate creation of a unified European army, subject to proper European democratic control and acting in full cooperation with the USA and Canada

Churchill, of course, had strategic vision and a sense of history. His length of service, as the only MP to have served in the House of Commons from the reign of Queen Victoria through to that of the current Queen Elizabeth, added to that. It meant that he had to adapt to changing circumstances and events.

And he never simply went with the flow: he twice left his party on matters of principle and spent another period “in the wilderness”. He would have looked, not at the short term interests of his party, but at the long-term national interest. He would have looked at the wider implications for world politics. He would have assessed the nature of globalisation and its implications in terms of the need to build allies and partnerships, and to pool sovereignty.

In short, he would have provided leadership — something the current office holder seems incapable of doing.

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