Churchill Red Herrings: On a Federal Europe and “Keep England White”

Churchill Red Herrings: On a Federal Europe and “Keep England White”

Churchill on Europe

“It is only when plans for unit­ing Europe take a fed­er­al form that we our­selves can­not take part, because we can­not sub­or­di­nate our­selves or the con­trol of British pol­i­cy to fed­er­al author­i­ties.” This quote is a red her­ring —not Churchill.

Hoist on my own petard! Alan Ingram, a kind read­er, has helped me cor­rect sev­er­al attri­bu­tions (four of them mine) of this quote to Churchill. The remark, exclud­ing Britain from a fed­er­al Europe, belongs to his then-for­eign sec­re­tary, Antho­ny Eden. I plead…

Guilty with an explanation:

My error and oth­ers’ occurred by mis­read­ing suc­ces­sive quotes in John Charmley’s Churchill’s Grand Alliance (1995). This is a cri­tique of the one-sided post­war “spe­cial rela­tion­ship.” On page 250, Charm­ley quotes Churchill’s telling cab­i­net note of 29 Novem­ber 1951:

Our atti­tude towards fur­ther eco­nom­ic devel­op­ments on the Schu­man lines resem­bles that which we adopt about the Euro­pean Army. We help, we ded­i­cate, we play a part, but we are not merged with and do not for­feit our insu­lar or com­mon­wealth char­ac­ter. Our first object is the uni­ty and con­sol­i­da­tion of the British Commonwealth….Our sec­ond, “the fra­ter­nal asso­ci­a­tion” of the Eng­lish-speak­ing world; and third, Unit­ed Europe, to which we are a sep­a­rate close­ly- and spe­cial­ly-relat­ed ally and friend. (Nation­al Archives, CAB129/48C [51] 32)

Dr. Charm­ley fol­lows this with ellipses and Eden’s words about Britain not tak­ing part in a fed­er­al Europe. He cor­rect­ly pro­vides a sep­a­rate foot­note, cit­ing Eden’s mem­o­ran­dum to the Coun­cil of Europe in Stras­bourg, 6 Decem­ber 1951.

Of course, Eden was reflect­ing Churchill’s own opin­ion on the Europe Unite move­ment. A week lat­er Churchill him­self wrote: “the Amer­i­cans would like us to fall into the gen­er­al line of Euro­pean pen­sion­ers which we have no inten­tion of doing.”

On  11 May 1953, Churchill spoke in the House of Com­mons: “We are not mem­bers of the Euro­pean Defence Com­mu­ni­ty, nor do we intend to be merged in a fed­er­al Euro­pean sys­tem. We feel we have a spe­cial rela­tion­ship to both.” Clear­ly, at that time, Churchill and Eden were as one on the issue.

For a fuller account of Churchill’s state­ments on unit­ed Europe, please see “EU and Churchill’s Views.” (That post is revised with the cor­rect attri­bu­tion, and oth­er quotations.)

“Keep England White”

Here is anoth­er sup­posed quote with cur­rent con­no­ta­tions. The Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project was asked to con­firm Churchill’s alleged pro­pos­al of “Keep Eng­land White” as a Con­ser­v­a­tive slo­gan in the 1955 elec­tion. Is this mis­un­der­stood or mis­at­trib­uted? Both.

This was nei­ther a pub­lic nor a con­firmed pri­vate state­ment. It is not in offi­cial min­utes, or The Churchill Doc­u­ments, Vol­ume 23 (2019). Its ori­gin is a diary entry by Harold Macmil­lan. After a 20 Jan­u­ary 1955 Cab­i­net meet­ing, Macmil­lan wrote: “The P.M. thinks ‘Keep Eng­land White’ a good cam­paign slogan!”

I found the Macmil­lan ref­er­ence on a web­site called Tra­di­tion­al Britain. You will quick­ly grasp their polit­i­cal stance, but in fair­ness, they do link two neg­a­tive ref­er­ences to this remark. The first is from The Guardian, to cite Churchill’s “true views” on immi­gra­tion.” The sec­ond is a 1993 uproar involv­ing Sir Winston’s grand­son, Win­ston Churchill (1940-2010). He called immi­gra­tion “the no-go area of British pol­i­tics.” He stat­ed: If we are to curb the scourge of racism we must first and fore­most stop adding to the problem.”

Macmil­lan was a reli­able diarist, not giv­en to exag­ger­a­tion, but the con­text mat­ters. He wrote in his diary, “The P.M. thinks…” That is not a direct quote, nor did the words ever appear in pub­lic. Also, Macmil­lan fol­lowed it with an excla­ma­tion mark, which could mean that Churchill said it in jest. Ask your­self: Would any astute politi­cian, even then, seri­ous­ly pro­pose “Keep Eng­land White” as a cam­paign slogan?

Out of con­text, the three words seem pret­ty stark. In con­text, Churchill was sup­port­ing lim­its on Caribbean immi­gra­tion. He did not dis­cuss oth­er black or brown peo­ple at that meet­ing. Of course, it is well estab­lished that Churchill in the 1950s resist­ed unlim­it­ed immi­gra­tion. Is this racist? We report, you decide.

3 thoughts on “Churchill Red Herrings: On a Federal Europe and “Keep England White”

  1. I wish to cor­rect Mr Sherman’s state­ment about Peter Griffiths’s cam­paign in the Smeth­wick bye-elec­tion of 1964. The slo­gan “Keep Britain White” was in fact pro­duced by the British Move­ment, led by Col­in Jor­dan, a neo-Nazi organ­i­sa­tion. A quick search of the slo­gan reveals that it was print­ed on fly­ers that refer to the “Tory Par­ty” (which the Con­ser­v­a­tives would nev­er use on their lit­er­a­ture). Years lat­er in 1962, Col­in Jor­dan co-found­ed the World Union of Nation­al Social­ists At his wed­ding cer­e­mo­ny to Françoise Dior in 1963 he and his wife cut their fin­gers and min­gled their blood over a copy of Mein Kampf. If you search for images of their wed­ding you’ll see por­traits of Hitler in the background.

    I should add though that Mr Grif­fiths did not con­demn the slo­gan, instead say­ing: “I should think that is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of the pop­u­lar feel­ing. I would not con­demn any­one who said that. I would say that is how peo­ple see the sit­u­a­tion in Smeth­wick. I ful­ly under­stand the feel­ings of the peo­ple who say it. I would say it is exas­per­a­tion, not fascism.”

  2. Fair enough. Remarks or asides, off the record, which could have been either irony or lame attempts at humor, are impos­si­ble to inter­pret pre­cise­ly. If you or I had our every word, or alleged word, record­ed, inter­pret­ed or ana­lyzed to the extent of Churchill, I dare­say we would suf­fer by com­par­i­son. Churchill’s racial epi­thets, as explain here, num­ber in the hand­ful, and the worst is not among them. Respon­si­ble opin­ion is wel­come, but that par­tic­u­lar word is not. My brief is Churchill, not Peter Grif­fiths, except to deplore such lan­guage, albeit near­ly a decade after Churchill had retired. Many thanks.

  3. Thank you for mak­ing these cor­rec­tions. I’m in favour of his­to­ry being revis­it­ed, but against things being attrib­uted as quotes if they were not. I do think that your point of Churchill’s view on “Keep­ing Britain White” is sup­po­si­tion in terms of how it was meant. As you have said Macmil­lan was a reli­able diarist and there are many ways that the excla­ma­tion mark can be interpreted. 

    You say “Ask your­self: Would any astute politi­cian, even then, seri­ous­ly pro­pose “Keep Eng­land White” as a cam­paign slogan?”

    You have either for­got­ten or omit­ted thoughts of the lat­er Smeth­wick elec­tion in 1964, when Con­ser­v­a­tive MP, Peter Grif­fiths worked under the cam­paign of ‘If you want a [cen­sored] for a neigh­bour, vote Labour.’ Some­thing that makes the Churchill attri­tion almost gen­teel. Many thanks

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