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Analysis

EU ‘founding father’ Churchill would vote against Brexit

by Graham Bishop | 26.10.2018

Winston Churchill has often been voted the most influential Briton ever. It’s hardly surprising, then, that Brexiters try to claim him as a eurosceptic. But read Churchill’s four great “European” speeches – Zurich (1946), Albert Hall (1947), The Hague (1948) and Kingsway Hall (1949) – then consider the way the world was changing around him, and it seems clear that Churchill would want the UK to stay in the EU today.

Of course, no one can ever know this for sure. However, Churchill was one of the EU’s “founding fathers” and its values represent the fulfilment of his life’s work. Moreover, he approved of our 1961 application to join the European Community, where the first sentence of its founding Treaty made clear that its over-arching political aim – “ever closer union among the peoples of Europe” – went far wider than merely a “Common Market”.

During the period spanned by Churchill’s speeches, the Soviet Union had just acquired the atomic bomb, and occupied by force the eastern part of Europe – eerily echoed by Putin’s current machinations.

As he watched the British Empire unravel – with Indian independence in 1947 – Churchill’s views evolved as events unfolded around him. How else would a statesman of his experience react to a new situation? He had experienced the vicissitudes of the highest offices in the land for more than a third of a century – in contrast to the handful of years of our current leaders.

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The breadth of his vision was laid out in his speech at The Hague in 1948: “Mutual aid in the economic field and joint military defence must inevitably be accompanied step by step with a parallel policy of closer political unity.”

In his final European speech, he made his views on the UK’s role crystal clear: “Britain is an integral part of Europe, and we mean to play our part in the revival of her prosperity and greatness.”

Already in 1947, he had founded the European Movement, tasking it “to now build up a vast body of popular support”. In the centre of the task was the Charter of Human Rights – agreed in 1951. Churchill wanted “Europe” to be a project of the people, not a project only of the governments – inherently the “elite”.

His founding values were recognised when the EU was awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize “for over six decades [having] contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe”.

Some have taken a few comments scattered across the decades of Churchill’s work and tried to argue that he would have been a eurosceptic. But reading these set-piece speeches – dramatic and graphic as they are – quickly gives the lie to such suggestions.

Former prime minister Edward Heath delivered the most powerful rebuttal in 1996. “I knew Winston Churchill, I worked with him, I stayed with him at his home at Chartwell and I have read his speeches many times. I can assure you that Winston Churchill was no eurosceptic.”

Anyone who reads Churchill’s speeches – and considers them in the changing circumstances in which they were delivered – should have no doubt that Churchill would have urged us to stretch every sinew to make sure the UK public have their voice heard on the outcome of Brexit talks through a democratic People’s Vote to remain in the EU.

Graham Bishop is vice-president of the European Movement. You can read his full analysis of Churchill’s European speeches here. You can also join the European Movement here.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

8 Responses to “EU ‘founding father’ Churchill would vote against Brexit”

  • Wonder what Churchill would have thought about Syed Kamall’s comment in the European Parliament comparing the role of social democrats to national socialists. Apparently he thought the word ‘socialist’ in both indicated they both wanted the same things. He was rightly sharply reprimanded by MEPs and he issued a half apology.
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/25/syed-kamall-nazi-remark-shameful-german-socialist-leader-udo-bullmann?CMP=share_btn_tw

    The scary thing is Kamall is leader of the British Conservative MEPs. The degree of ignorance of recent European history is simply staggering from someone in his position. It doesn’t say much either for the judgement of those who selected him.
    Makes you embarrassed to be British.

  • Churchill, Major, Blair, Heath, Thatcher, Cameron, May, ……..you name them…and others…..all would/do regard leaving the EU as a disastrous mistake. But if it’s ok with Farage and Aaron Banks….and loony buffoon Johnson, then that’s OK with the will of the people. Help!

    And of course the civil service ….. governor of the Bank of England…..Treasury etc don’t think it’s a good idea either. But Putin does!

    And, on the bright side, JRM predicts that in fifty years time we may see the benefits of Brexit.

    Not a helpful comment, but at least I can say this without a punch up at the golf club….

  • It is frightening how ignorant so many of our MPs and MEPs are of history, of relationships and, as Kamalla demonstrates, any understanding of the ideological differences between systems like National Socialism, ocialism and even Communism. Has it become a qualifying requirement for election in the UK to demonstrate such ignorance, and to give offense on every occasion such as the Foreign Secretary’s comparing the EU to the USSR?

    Churchill would be appalled by what his Party has become. I am privileged to have on my bookshelves a complete set of his collected works, and I come to the same conclusion as the author of this article – it is very clear to me that Churchill envisaged the UK having a central role IN Europe, not standing on the edges hurling insults at our fellow Europeans.

  • One only has to look at what Churchill’s grandson, Tory MP Nicholas Soames says on the matter. He also believes his grandfather would be supporting remaining in the EU. And yet, Brexiters think they can misappropriate Churchill for their own ends to bolster their own brand of plastic patriotism.

  • Unquestionably Churchill saw moves to unify European countries as an essential way forward after the horror and waste of two world wars and wanted the UK to be closely involved with that process. He had some reservations about full membership for the UK in the early stages because he also valued very highly Britain’s role in the Commonwealth and the “special relationship” with the USA and he wanted to move forward on all three fronts. Given the successful establishment of the EEC and the potential for further development I am sure he would have brought Britain into full membership as indeed Ted Heath did in due course.

    Even if there is room for a different view on this, one thing is certain – after 40 years of membership leading to deep and widespread integration of British trade and services with our continental partners and having made a return to war unthinkable he would not then have been mad enough to set in motion a destructive process which will force the UK to spend many years extricating itself from just about every advantage so laboriously won.

  • Agree with all the above comments. I note that our Brexiteer friends seem strangely silent about this one. Maybe they realise they are out of arguments. Or maybe they are realising that they have made a mistake.

  • An interesting quote from Churchill for those thinking nostalgically about Britain’s past as something desirable for our future;

    “Those who try to build the present in the image of the past will miss out entirely on the challenge of the future.”

  • Donald Trump proclaims himself to be a nationalist. Does that make him i a National Socialist Mr Kamall? Thinking about it, maybe.