Papers released this morning by the National Archives under the Freedom of Information Act have caused more than one breakfast beverage related accident.
In Cabinet papers, secret until now, dated 10 September 1956 it has emerged that France’s Prime Minister requested a full scale union with Great Britain under Her Majesty the Queen.
According to the document from the Cabinet Office
“When the French Prime Minister, Monsieur Mollet was recently in London he raised with the prime minister the possibility of a union between the United Kingdom and France.”
France, then as now and always, was in the grip of domestic turmoil with unworkable public services and massive government over-spending. Added to this was the ever deepening Algerian rebellion, fuelled by Egypt’s President Nasser – who had just nationalised the Suez Canal.
In these circumstances, Prime Minister M. Mollet saw Britain as a natural ally. He also saw Britain and France on opposite sides of the deepening stand-off between Jordan and Israel. A full and formal union would have shored up an important post war relationship and made for a more stable international scene.
M. Mollet, an educated man and a student of History, was a noted Anglophile and envied Britain’s seemingly effortless implementation of the welfare state in stark contrast to his own country’s botched efforts.
He sensibly thought a Union under the Queen and a shared citizenship “along the Irish lines” would give France much needed stability at home and abroad.
Prime Minister Eden rejected the idea out of hand as unworkable and unbenificial to Britain but was surprised by a second proposal.
Some two weeks later while on a return visit to Paris, Mr Eden was again asked about bringing the delinquent republic under the crown. M. Mollet suggested France join the British Commonwealth.
In the official notes of a telephone conversation between Mr Eden and the Cabinet Secretary Sir Norman Brook, Sir Norman records his instructions
“That we should give immediate consideration to France joining the Commonwealth. That Monsieur Mollet had not thought there need be difficulty over France accepting the headship of her Majesty and the French would welcome a common citizenship arrangement on the Irish basis.”
Records detailing how these intiatives ended have not yet come to light. It is thought they were swiftly retracted by the French and that this led to the creation of the insidious EEC the following year with the alliance of France with Germany. This was seen by the French as a far more workable solution as it saved Germany the trouble of invading for a third time in 50 years.
Henri Soutou, Professor of Modern History at the Sorbonne in Paris allegedly spat coffee down the phone when asked for comment by the BBC this morning. He later said
“Really I am stuttering because this idea is so preposterous. The idea of joining the Commonwealth and accepting the headship of Her Majesty would not have gone down well. If this had been suggested more recently Mollet might have found himself in court.”
It is a shame that such a visionary leader could not have seen his dream come to fruition.