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Foreign & Commonwealth Office General Services Command



No. 14 Britishness

British and

Foreign and CommonwealthOffice




,. 1997

FOREWORD This year's FCO Annual History lecture was given on 14 May by Professor Keith Robbins. His choice of subject, `Britishness and British Foreign Policy', was especially topical. Recent debates on the future of the European Union and the constitution of the United Kingdom have raised it Of be British. late, historians have the to again question of what means increasingly both turned their attention towards those developments, internal during the eighteenth and external, which contributed and forging British identity. to the nineteenth centuries of a single national Professor Robbins, who is Vice-Chancellor University Wales, the of of Lampeter and Senior Vice-Chancellor University Wales, the of of and who has previously held Chairs of Modern History at the University College of North Wales at Bangor and the University of Glasgow, has been well placed to observe these trends. He has also made his own very considerable Britain's His history to our understanding of contribution past. of modem Britain from 1870 to 1992 is a standard text on the subject, and his studies of the Munich settlement of 1938, Sir Edward Grey, John Bright, the British Peace Movement between 1914 and igig, and the First World War, have all highlighted those traits, political, moral and economic, which have helped British international towards attitudes shape relations and the conduct of foreign affairs. We are pleased to publish Professor Robbins's lecture as the latest in the FCO Historians' series of Occasional Papers.

John Coles September 1997


& Commonwealth




No. 14

September 1997







by Professor Keith Robbins

Copies of this pamphlet will be deposited with the National FCO Historians, Library & Records Department, Clive House, Petty France, London SWiH Crown Copyright

ISBN o 903359 73 1








A Lecture delivered at the Foreign and Commonwealth


MaY 14 1997 It is perhaps an unusual piece of percipience on the part of a historian that by invitation he honoured time the to give the annual some ago when was lecture he should have offered to speak on this subject. I am conscious that this is a history lecture, though equally conscious that history can be a in It does present controversy. now seem that weapon political forced institutional have that circumstances upon us reconsideration of the has been in for decades. Britain The General the air nature of which recent Election campaign has been full of claim and counter-claim on the subject of Britishness. The former Prime Miniser, John Major, repeating with fresh he had in in that claimed with some success urgency what 1992, argued only Conservative hands would Britain be saved from the two threats which destroy `a British history': internal disintegration, thousand might years of on the one hand, and absorption into `Federal Europe' on the other. And there dynamic between Mr In these the two threats. relationship a was event, Major and his party suffered the comprehensive defeat whose significance we are still only beginning to grapple with. The new government now has to turn its early attention to the detail of its proposals for devolution. My purpose, perhaps you will be relieved to hear, is not to weigh up in in fact been have whether politicians or sections of the press right even asserting that there has been `a thousand years of British history' - whether it is It has the more modest objective of exploring to or not coming an end. the relationship, largely in the twentieth century, between `British identity' British foreign It have the and assumptions which policy. so underpinned happens that my own interests as an historian have long been both in the complexities of `Britishness' - perhaps a reflection of a professional career England, in in Scotland Wales foreign British the spent and and study of for interface It be however, indeed this to policy. examined, and seems rare, I know of no single work that does so in a substantial fashion. Yet few foreign in the that policy of any country must necessarily, would contest its be its identity. Foreign of own a reflection sense of some sense, Secretaries and their advisers must have some notion of `Britain' and `Britishness' even if they are not very explicit about it. And historians have fact image been itself is the that a country's stressing recently of often Other' image its `the by Britain is different that of confirmed emphatically from France, Germany or the United States in particulars.


The `national interest', as we know, is frequently evoked in defence of this least in It is to that sometimes, operate a realm policy. supposed, at or In his interest. `sectional' transcends 1850 peroration, arising out mere which famously defined Pacifico' Palmerston his `Don the affair, understanding of of Britishness. He foreign implications for the policy of a certain concept of Commons House `as representing a political, a commercial, a of asked the Roman in days held decide `whether, the of old, as constitutional country' to himself free from indignity when he could say Civis Romanus sum; so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the injustice him England against will protect watchful eye and the strong arm of Palmerston in [We that could talk with passing, and wrong'. may note, impunity about `British subjects' and `the strong arm of England]. John Bright, who heard the speech, declared it one of the best he had ever heard. He urged, however, `Let us not resemble the Roman merely in our Romans The were great privileges and personal security. national Palmerston ' but conquerors, where they conquered, they governed wisely. different in both, but Bright their they ways, and were political opponents foreign it had `Britishness' to came significant content when suggested that policy. There have been innumerable occasions since the mid-nineteenth century in `put been have British to country urged and parliamentarians electors which before party' when its welfare, even its survival, has been held to be in jeopardy. It is normally at a moment of crisis that the virtues and values of danger It is the and of element and celebrated. elaborated are a country In periods of uncertainty which gives urgency to the task of self-definition. The tranquillity, such self-analysis seems often contrived and unnecessary. ignore be `under is threat' and can safely any not perceived to country it be Even it is `identity the through may that so, crisis'. going an suggestion both taking the at an elite and popular place all while, case that shifts are foreign jeopardize disturb level, which any a national self-image and perhaps issues, it into In does the these take considering account. not policy which from falls into lecture locus the the to three this i88os parts: of chronological First World War, from the 1920S to the 1970s, from the 1970s to the present. In each of these periods I argue that there have been significant shifts in last in is it `Britishness', that the the though perhaps only of understandings Britain' `Great has come under critical scrutiny, a scrutiny entity called European for British implications had has the policy. conduct of which `It must be wonderful to be in England now... ' wrote Julian Grenfell from South Africa in August 1914 `a wonderful speech of Grey's And don't you ... Empire; incredible it has been to the think rally a wonderful and almost Boers Crooks Will Hindus Redmond the the and the and and and with


South Fiji Islanders all aching to come and throw stones at the Germans. It failing in Country'. belief Old Flag Mother the re-inforces one's and the The specific references in these few sentences provide one approach to the They definition `Britishness'. both of express relief and satisfaction that `Great Britain' has indeed rallied to the cause at the moment of danger. The countries of settlement had confirmed that they were indeed parts of `Greater Britain'. The writers who contributed to this extended notion of `Great Britain' are well-known - Sir John Seeley, Sir Charles Dilke amongst them - and they need no elaboration here. To be British was to share in Canadian for Agnes the the wonder of a great global enterprise, as writer Macher wrote in the foreword to her book Stories of the British Empire: `no Ruler in belief Divine Universe, the the of one, surely, with any adequate British Empire being impressed the without wonderful story of our can study final its its Divine humanity, to purpose, mission as the end with a sense of for which the shoot of Saxon freedom, planted in British soil, has grown into You have has Empire this the greatest ever seen'. world will already noted, in both quotations, a ready resort to the adjective `wonderful' to describe this spread of Britishness. One aspect of the opposition to Gladstonian proposals for Irish Home Rule in the 188os and 18gos was the extent to which it appeared to threaten any long-term possibility of maintaining the British Empire as some kind of single Great Kingdom Britain itself United If Ireland the of on and was system. the brink of dissolution - which critics supposed `Home Rule' to entail then there was no chance of keeping a far-flung empire together. The Rule' `Home for Ireland that was strengthened the counter-argument United Kingdom as a world power because it would allow the Irish people internal fully in their to substantially order own government whilst sharing United Kingdom Empire British foreign the the the of which and policy of Moreover, devolution for the they remained a part. would allow more time Imperial Parliament (i. e. Westminster) to give proper attention to Britain's world role and responsibilities. Gladstonian for Rule failed, it Irish Home proposals since was not for It draw lesson. be to could only a matter any general possible in United Kingdom `devolved' a which contained a speculation whether, Ireland, foreign policy would have nonetheless have continued as though Some foreign in happened. had that argued policy was still while nothing in for Imperial Parliament, been have the to theory solely a matter practice Parliament have developed, Irish over time, a perspective on would an `British' foreign policy which would have had at least distinctive elements have diaspora. Irish reflected the strength of the which would However,


Despite his youthful euphoria in 1914, you will also have noted that Grenfell in `failing belief to the `Old Flag' and the `Mother also confessed a Country' even though now happily belied, it seemed, by the global imperial in Europe. duality The `wonder' `anxiety' to response of war and runs deeply through the decades immediately before 194 both in Britain `at home' and `abroad'. It is to be found both amongst `Colonials' and the inhabitants of the `Mother Country'. In Canada, for example, studies of in Columbia, Ontario British Alberta textbooks school and reveal the extent to which they continued to reinforce loyalty to and love of Britain and its Empire. It was enacted in i9o6 that all provincial schools had to fly the Union Jack during school hours. In his address on Empire Day in Toronto in Governor-General, Grey Albert, Earl boys it the that agog reminded was a festival on which `every British subject should reverently remember that the British Empire stands out before the whole world as the fearless champions freedom, fair The Dominion Day of play and equal rights'. celebration of by little It contrast, was, still a muted. was clearly not easy to explain and reconcile that dual sense of identify to non- `Anglo-Saxon' elements in the population or to Americans. That some effort of reconciliation was similarly in Australia the that greeted the twentieth century. characteristic new in Dominion short, was already a recognizable phenomenon nationalism', but relatively few `colonials' felt a need to `stop being British' as a way of Paradoxically, however, both in Canada and in being `true nationalists'. Australia and New Zealand, settlers from different parts of the British Isles in in fashion did happen together close proximity a mingled not often which in the `Mother Country'. It was as though to be thoroughly British it was Britain. leave to necessary It was recognition that there was such a thing as `dominion nationalism' Alfred, led Lord be Milner men to such as to stress the need which aware that it could prove a disruptive force within the great British family unless there was a continuing stress on the ties that bound. It was by no means `loyalty' be for that the though clear such could easily reinforced, perhaps immediate danger. It is not surprising, therefore, that there moment was no there was a flurry of literature on these issues in the decades before 1914 be here. sampled which can only One figure, though admittedly a minor one, who wrestled with some of these issues was J. A. Murray Macdonald, a Scottish liberal who was MP for Tower Hamlets in the i8gos. He argued that it was vital that the great determining have `the and self-governing colonies should a means of sharing involved In however, in British practice, vast responsibilities rule and policy'. there was no widespread support for the view that the United Kingdom important if become the most should a component part, even part, of an


South The had African War been had and even parliament. won forces from Empire. Victory the seen modest self-governing was volunteered for future, it `pan-British' the or so could a achievement which augured well be argued. imperial

Opposition during these turn-of-the century years, Sir Edward Grey His important British' `Great the stance perspective on was world. shared a firmly Imperialists', `Liberal He deliberate. camped amongst and in South Africa, life difficult Milner and generally made corresponded with he for Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman struggled to maintain some sort of as Liberal unity on the South African issue. He corresponded with his distant in Grey, him imperial Earl though agreement with on was not always cousin issues. Sir Edward was not a traveller, but when he was at length persuaded Indies in West Europe British it the to 1897. to go abroad, visit was a was brothers, both killed He had by him. book two to of whom were wild closed it boldness, British Africa: in seemed, sometimes required such sad animals sacrifices. In

Grey seemed to some observers to be the quintessence of an English country fishing His in birds. home love his of and was with gentleman far it in England his Northumberland as constituency was as north was and in had been England had he but be, educated southern and also possible to River Itchen in Hampshire. In fishing for the on manner and a penchant disposition, he was classically English, though he was more intimate than Haldane, is R. dearly It B. English. true that who was not normal with was Grey visited Scotland quite frequently but normally only at a particular time Scots location be to to not the where many a seen. were of year and The pre-1914 Liberal Cabinet as a whole, however, was distinctly British, Liberal England. Even Englishmen like strength outside naturally reflecting Minister, Asquith, found Churchill, Winston Prime the subsequent and Scottish Westminster. Lloyd constituencies themselves representing at George was the first Welsh-speaking Welshman to make a major mark in British politics. It might be argued, however, that it was only at this level of functioned (though British Academy been had `Britain' the politics that formed in 19o3). It is true, of course, there had been much mingling of the Scotland fusion into Wales but England, a and scarcely a populations of `Britishness' all trace of regional/ national which obliterated universal identity within Great Britain. A kind of schizophrenia was therefore not confined to Canada but existed it. Britain itself, Englishmen to recognize were slow although within Whether the country was called Britain or England was a matter of indif'erence and they raised no objection when continental Europeans spoke


English political forays habitually of `England', Angleterre or Inghilterra. did England, they though outside occasionally open comparatively rare were, George Caernarfon Grey in When in for for Lloyd to eyes. 19o4, went speak Caernarvon, he it distinct for `appears him. example, noted was a adventure to be on the fringe of the Celtic fringe & very remote', and, when he got there, it was clearly not England - though a glance at the castle could he first Englishman I1oyd George, that to there. the confirm arrive was not had been a `pro-Boer' though not simply because, like the Welsh, of course, they were a small people. In short, the United Kingdom of Great Britain Ireland kind in it too of multi-national state and was a which was possible to have overlapping identities. It was obvious, in the years immediately before 1914, that there was a between foreign Grey initially this the relationship reality and state's policy. favoured Rule Irish Home Bill when it was introduced the third strongly into the Commons in April 1912. He did so on two grounds. First, that the Parliament do to amount of work which now was required was such that `one Parliament cannot do it all' and second that `There is an Irish national feeling and there is a national feeling in other parts of the United Kingdom. You cannot help it. The thing is there... '. When the different parts of Ireland had for the first time a sense of joint responsibility for the domestic be he later their country all would running of well - an optimism modified. However, he did not abandon his belief that the management of the foreign British Empire by devolution the policy of would not be jeopardized downwards. He adhered to the view, which we have already heard devolution Parliament Imperial that the that earlier, expressed would mean by less be cluttered relatively trivial matters. would In 1912 Churchill argued that to make a federal system workable within the United Kingdom it would be necessary to divide England into perhaps a dozen self-governing areas. If England was not so divided it would dominate in federation a manner unacceptable to its partners. However, other any To England divide the appalled at contemporaries were prospect. up, was, in The Spectator, `utterly repugnant to our to a view expressed according [English] national pride'. Just at the moment when the Scots and the Welsh Rule' because it `Home the than grounds of nationality rather on might gain Wales Scotland to treat sense and as made economic or administrative be deprived English to the were of their single units, of recognition nationality. It was also questionable, of course, whether `devolution' was in fact to be `federalism'. `Devolution' equated with rested on the assumption that the Imperial parliament was still `sovereign' and if necessary could intervene and `devolved'. functions it had time the revoke at a particular which




on the contrary, legally-defined sovereignty and a In a Federal Britain/United

entailed a of parliamentary functions. attribution of responsibilities and Kingdom a constitution would make transparent which matters were dealt with at a provincial/ regional level and dealt federal However, level. the which were with at neither then nor in decades subsequent was there great clarity on such points. Lord Dunraven, an Anglo-Welsh-Irish interest long peer with and experience in these matters, was another contemporary to advance schemes which he believed would `delegate to localities authority sufficient to enable them to manage their own affairs without unduly encroaching upon the power of an Such arrangements would enable more time and existing central authority'. imperial/foreign be to the to given policy of the state as a whole attention than was possible under the existing structure. Other writers, however, were scathing about the possibility of reconciling and combining the `little fringe' in `Celtic the a structure which would at the same nationalisms' of One `Pan-Britannic time also realize, globally, such was the unity'. Conservative historian J. A. R. Marriott `federal home thought that who For federalism, `on him, in track'. the wrong as seen rulers' were simply Canada or Australia, for example, represented a bringing together not a He know in to communities. asunder of related also parting whether wanted European Federation Britannic `Great the a world unit would consist of Britain and Ireland' or would England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales be footing Canada. New Zealand the same as regarded as separate units on or No one rushed to answer. In the event, it did not prove necessary to do so. The First World War discussion in dramatically the two of constitutional context altered Even before fundamental Liberal Government's Irish the 1914, respects. Home Rule proposals ran up against the buffer provided by Protestant Ulster which dung to an inconvenient concept of Britishness and resisted Irish Home Rule. And despite the optimism expressed in Julian Grenfell's [whose Redmond for brother fighting John killed in the British praise was beyond framework its Army] the Irish Question the ran pre-1914 of discussion; the 1916 Easter Rising, the growth of republicanism, the post-war State. Free in A the the partition solution, civil war anti-British campaign, Rule' for `Home restructuring which proposed a united constitutional Ireland within a United Kingdom which would pursue a common `British' foreign policy was no longer on offer. Only in Northern


devolved there a parliament combined with was modest representation at Westminster. Except in relation to what was now foreign had interest in its Stormont to the country no parliament south, the foreign foreign UK `Ulster' influence an policy or realistic aspiration to



was only a rare and policy with a particular provincial perspective. form Marquess Londonderry individual in the the of exceptional of who both had a role in Ulster politics and in mainstream British politics, including foreign policy. When he wrote Ourselvesand Germany the `we' are the British State, Foreign Free Affairs Ulster. In had the the a apparatus not men of to be constructed and a foreign policy devised. Its central preoccupation was to escape from the British umbrella which still loomed large in relation both to the `treaty ports' and to economic issues. The new League of Nations forum. Dublin in in the seeking redefinition of the provided a was also van it British Empire the constitutional structure of still remained a - of which half-hearted somewhat part. Of course, Irish activity alone would not have sufficed to bring about fresh Empire. To British the constitutional statements within greater or lesser degree, as is well-known, the dominions in the years after igig sought definition of their status. The First World War had a paradoxical character in terms of their own development. The display of imperial unity, so much Grenfell It by in is the welcomed story. generally 1914, was only one part of agreed, perhaps particularly in the case of Australia and New Zealand, that the experience of war strengthened `dominion nationalism' and the desire to desire It `mother this the achieve parity of status with country'. was which definition in Balfour Imperial by the the resulted engineered at 1926 Conference, subsequently codified in the 1931 Statute of Westminster. It did disavowal `Britishness' fundamental a not represent of as still a part of their it did identity but for in firm desire own express a equality an Crown Empire /Commonwealth `British' the which remained as with symbolic expression of unity. The inter-war and then war-time relationship between British and the selfdominions both Europeans. Americans to to was puzzling governing and Were the dominions really `independent' or not? Equality of status was one thing, equality of power perhaps another? To what extent did the United Kingdom still `give a lead'? To what extent was a sense of being `kith and kin' sufficient to cause Australia or Canada, for example, to feel obliged to European Was Kingdom United the war? still a another contemplate Such Pacific? in be the questions and could multiplied powerful player In in British `appeasement'. the the context of received varying answers internal in degrees however, of 1939, with varying once again event, enthusiasm and also with a considerable admixture of perceived national dominions British in the that some sense were still self-interest, a sense Kingdom. In United bring them to the 1954,, support proved sufficient to Churchill by his acknowledged a remark reflecting on wartime speeches, Attlee that the speeches expressed the will of the whole nation: `It was a


dwelling lion's heart. I had had the the that nation and race all round globe the luck to be called upon to give the roar. ' Britain As far as Great itself was concerned, between them, the Irish `solution' hand the the the on one and changing nature of Empire/ Commonwealth brought the to an end after 1922 a period on other, forty in have had been there some years which, as summarily seen, of we though to address never nor coherent, some attempt, very sustained `devolution' United Kingdom (or `Federal Britain') the simultaneously within foreign The `pan-Britannic' Irish Free the entity. policy of new and a global designed State was certainly to preserve the notion that `the British not kind had have Isles' constituted to of reality which a common political some Second during World War Neutrality the made the point very expression. increasingly in [still] Dublin's British the marginal presence and explicit declaration in Commonwealth the the to an end with of republic came 1949. Irish It remained the case, even so, that Britain to treat continued Commonwealth immigrants to the citizens and offer a special relationship as has just indicated, been however resilient Irish economy. Likewise, the as it was evident that it would links between Britain and the `old Dominions', form `Commonwealth in Federation'. find the of a expression never

So, although the `Britishness' of Northern Ireland remained problematic, we further half period of a roughly a century after the can perhaps speak of British foreign Britishness be in to and a policy ceased which early 1920S it Although Scottish liberals Welsh appeared. and complicated matter, or so before 1914 had floated `Home Rule', they had done so without unanimity destroyed War Great `Great The Ireland' Britain arguably and and urgency. but it showed little sign of destabilizing `Great Britain' itself. Lloyd George had been the saviour of the British nation, taking pride in his Welshness, but Britain. break In he to up peacemaking, was arguably certainly not seeking his issues if but to than of colleagues some of ethnicity more sensitive him difficulties the than of the that more made aware of awareness anything `national Later, in behind the self-determination'. slogan 1922, no glories hindered his Ireland had to be `pan-Celticism' that conclusion trace of Liberal Party in decline Thereafter, the course, of and, was partioned. Labour, Britain the rise of was entering on an era of classarguably, with for example, amongst Labour's Keir Hardie, based politics. Although Rule' favoured `Home in in had the party was practice centralist pioneers, for British its It to the triumph and working class was necessary emphasis. figures, Ramsay downwards, from MacDonald thought prominent non-English British in the terms of nation. and acted In the event, Labour's inter-war grasp of power was brief, but even after the hammering of 1931 no significant Labour voice suggested that it was best to


Wales Socialism Scotland The inter-war in building think of or alone. period did see the emergence of `national' parties in Scotland and Wales but they had impact. In electoral or parliamentary no significant were marginal and both countries, under the impact of the economic depression, there was a loss of confidence in the future - and a steady loss of population to England industries. in both in Even `new' countries, there were so, seeking work distinctive had bearing the a and of political economic scene aspects which foreign Britishness on and policy. In Scotland, in particular, there was a good deal of debate about whether, `Scotland' `break-up Even `dying'. the to contemplate of qua nation, was Britain' seemed in these circumstances to be folly. Besides, there remained in the professional and commercial classes a strong commitment to the British Empire. It tended to be a Scottish conceit that Scotsmen ran the Empire, Scotland-in-Britain British Empire and a was an without impossibility. in The major 1938 Glasgow Empire Exhibition appears Wales In final `ownership'. be to retrospect a expression of this sense of its there was a different representation was context: parliamentary had in Labour, in (Scotland the 193os a overwhelmingly even 1931 and 1935 its A Nonconformity threw weight clear non-Labour majority). still powerful behind the League of Nations and gave that body an esteem which it never for in England. Voting in Peace Ballot, the 1935 reached example, confirms Aberystwyth fact. foundation Chair The in Politics International this at of a by Lord Cardiff foundation in Temple Peace, and the of the of underwritten Davies of Llandinam can be taken as indications of a modest attempt to foreign Welsh There perspective on establish a policy. was, of course, at this for Office Wales, Welsh territorial nor even a minister period still no no capital city. Given a party system which operated on an all-British basis, it was inevitable in these circumstances that it was the preponderant voice of England (and Conservative England) which dominated British politics. Prime Minister Baldwin claimed distinction as an interpreter of England and it was On Britain On England his that title the not popular occasional some of under foreign it Amongst in however, the 193os, secretaries pieces were published. Reading Lord English Sir John be that typically and said was could not Simon acquired whatever degree of Scottishness a boy from south of the border acquires from a schooling at Fettes College, Edinburgh, but Eden English little knowledge Britain Halifax with of were undoubtedly and Eden had In England. the the once paid a visit to 1920S young outside South Wales and his biographer records him as forming a very low opinion of foreign he did hasten They Welsh to and the not seemed rather people. come again.


So, as much by accident as by design, British foreign policy was conducted by Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries who were English, represented English constituencies and were served by a Foreign Office and a Whitehall in London machine situated a which was simultaneously the capital of England and Britain. There was no compelling reason to probe any of the disclosed by this state of affairs. Britain was a nation-state within ambiguities the European state-system and the British people as a whole would sink or in Britain' `Battle lay Winston Churchill, it together the that of swim ahead. is apparent, was happier in speaking about `England' than about `Britain' but did his best to remember to use the right word. In practice, it did not he No to greatly matter which word seem more than in the First used. World War did Britain come apart at the seams between 1939 and 1945In 1945, Attlee's Labour Party governed Britain having won in England Conservatives. by Only on one the twice the number of seats obtained in 1929, and then only very narrowly, had Labour previous occasion, in England Conservatives. Since it had than the obtained more seats also Scotland in Wales in be the this and majorities 1945 government can sense British be The however, leading to truly government. a said ministers, were Englishmen who represented English constituencies. Different though their background looked Attlee Bevin both and educational at social was, and Walker, Gordon Britain through English eyes. So did Noel-Baker and Secretaries of State for Commonwealth Relations. It could be said, however, with some though not complete justice, that there is no significance in drawing attention to such facts since neither the British Isles leading the provenance within ministers nor their of parliamentary constituencies had any bearing on the conduct of policy. Britain was Britain and that was all there was to be said. In igoi, for been integrated it had had become the that example, so politically country Secretary for Rosebery, former Lord Foreign thought entirely appropriate a Prime Minister, King in Winchester, Alfred to the and unveil statue of though no one supposed that Rosebery was quintessentially Wessex man. So, half a century later, it still seemed virtually irrelevant to spend much time thinking about the past and the present of Britain. There are various reasons why, for twenty or so years after 1945, that should be the case. A generation which believed itself to have won the war would fought in Britain had lonely isolation lightly `Britain' on aside. cast and not forces Britishness: in the armed strengthened a sense of common experience Britannia contra mundum. There had been no occupation or disruption of institutional continuity. There was no call to devise new constitutions and Europe. It is in had been during the true that case mainland start afresh as the war itself Federal Union had a temporary appeal as a possible solution


its at conclusion to the problems of Europe and possibly of the world. Sir William Beveridge, for example, ended a pamphlet by suggesting that the future choice - where Britain and federalism was concerned between - was `Utopia and Hell'. In the Foreign Office itself the idea of a Federal Europe in which Britain would play a leading part seemed as close to hell as to Sir Orme Sargent utopia. sagely minuted that `the idea of the Federation of Europe can only make its appeal to public sentiment so long as it appears Eldorado details the only as a vague about of which we need not bother our heads at present'. And, after 194.5, such modest public sentiment as existed largely disappeared. Great Britain Power the on subject a was still, as was by being a permanent United Nations the evidenced new member of Security Council. In these circumstances, when there were so many urgent domestic issues of reconstruction and recovery to attend to, few stood back `Britishness'. be It to themselves to and asked attached what meaning was Their Eden. Morrison Bevin, topic to appeal to was not a successors as or Foreign Secretaries in the 1950s, Harold Macmillan and Selwyn Lloyd, had traces of non-English ancestry, as their names reveal, but it had no political English for them personally and they represented constituencies. significance decolonization however, gathered when the process of were years, beginning Indian the momentum, with sub-continent and then extending to Labour The Britain the government was other parts of world where ruled. both join Pakistan India should and most anxious that newly-independent It in future. for Commonwealth succeeded the the and thus set a precedent this objective. Even if it seemed increasingly inappropriate to speak of the it was still hoped that the Commonwealth British Commonwealth, of Nations would continue to buttress the United Kingdom's position in the did Conservatives The 1951 not to power after return of the post-war world. determination hold to on to colonial rule as a vital aspect of signal a Britain's role in the world. It was Iain Macleod, a Scot (with an English decolonization impetus his to after who gave additional constituency) Secretary Colonial in 1959. appointment as These

As time passed, however, whatever its merits, the Commonwealth could not Britain'. `Greater The be seen as a twentieth-century version of world of dissolving. but inexorably The Dominions' `Old dominions the slowly was had their own individual concerns in fashioning their own sense of identity. In a situation of changing immigration patterns, stress upon a common British past was no longer cohesive for them. The more it was stressed that for `multi-racial' inappropriate Commonwealth it became the more the was Britain to seem to seek to maintain a `club within a club' on the old terms. Although no precise date can be attached to this shift, and although it was British that there manifestly still the case were valued aspects of a inheritance still cherished in the `Old Dominions', an external projection of


was coming to an end. Whatever had to be located `at home'. something which now


it was,


Two further developments One in the the complicated picture. arrival was from Britain Indies, Indian West the the of populations sub-continent and in in England. Britain, elsewhere who settled and particularly urban urban Clearly identifiable `different' immigrants by by as colour and often religion, formed, in `alien had little some eyes, an now understanding of wedge' who fully it be British doubtfully be into to and could ever meant absorbed what `the British way of life'. In other eyes, however, their presence brought diversity `multi-cultural Britain' be the of and prospect which would welcome if it it even required a redefinition of what enlarging and enriching meant to It was a debate, be British. sometimes an acrimonious one, which was joined in the mid-ig6os.

development kind the evidence of some was of movement second from formation Iron integration Steel European the the towards of and Community to the signature of the Treaty of Rome. There is no need to discuss here why the United Kingdom stood aloof from these developments decisions in the the the i95os. taken to wisdom of express an opinion on or Whatever the merits of the economic or other considerations involved, it does appear that British governments felt themselves under no psychological It `Britishness'. still seemed a robust concept: necessity to question Two it held knew meant. all-British political parties still what everybody for Liberals UK In the the example, only polled 9 per cent of 1966, stage. Cymru Plaid in Wales Welsh the obtained only 4 per cent of vote vote and (and no seats) and the Scottish National Party only 5 per cent of the Scottish vote (no seats). In Wales, the Labour preponderance of seats Lord Home However, became Secretary in Foreign when remained massive. Scottish Labour Conservative the share of and vote was still the ig6o, the Conservatives The Scottish held (47 31 seats and per cent each). same Labour 38. In these circumstances, there seemed nothing untoward in the fact that when he disclaimed his peerage on becoming Prime Minister in Scottish He had, Sir Douglas-Home Alec contested and won a seat. 1963, his Even Scottish MP before he been to title. succeeding so, a was after all, Scottish be have brought English-educated to aristocrat who cannot said an foreign Scottish his handling to policy either as of perspective any strong Foreign Secretary or Prime Minister. The

In the Labour government of 1974 James Callaghan was appointed Foreign Secretary. Although not himself Welsh, he had represented a Cardiff feel in home him for long at many years and experience made constituency designated Cardiff Wales - at least (since the as officially as 1956 -insofar in Secretary `belonged' first Wales. Foreign He the to to sit capital) was the


House of Commons for a Welsh constituency. Two years later, he became Prime Minister. Three years later, his Labour government fell in the wake devolution fiasco. Labour had not succeeded in `restructuring' or the of `redefining' Britain. Indeed, in Wales as in Scotland, there were prominent Labour MPs who opposed devolution and were pleased to see its failure. It is from the mid-i97os onwards that the internal/external incongruities of the `British question' began to reveal themselves. Internally, the post-war domination of the two parties began to crumble, at least in terms of the Democrats over the next couple of share of the vote. The Liberals/Liberal decades edged up towards around 20 per cent of the electorate and some (disproportionately small) increase in their small total of seats. `Devolution' occupied a prominent place in their platform. Even more striking was the in for the SNP, to reach a peak in the second election of growth support 1974 of ii seats and 31 per cent of the Scottish vote. Plaid Cymru never achieved such a share of the Welsh vote but its geographically-concentrated it to gain a small number of parliamentary seats. However, support enabled notwithstanding such visible indications of a new mood, the referendum devolution the votes on proposals of the Labour government in 1979 did not achieve the desired outcome. The constitutional status quo remained and, briefly, Conservative Scotland increased in both support and or stabilised Wales, only to turn down again in the ig8os. In 1987, while there were five times more Labour than Conservative MPs in Scotland, and three times in Wales, in England there were 358 Conservative MPs to only 155 more Labour. From the beginning of Conservative government in Britain in 1979, it had only been in England that there was a Conservative majority. And, with successive elections, and given the size of the Conservative majority in England, it was a situation which verged on becoming a permanent reality. There

had been occasions in the past (both elections of igio for example) Liberal British failed had to gain a majority in England government when a had disgruntlement `Celtic' occasioned that situation which some a -a (Irish Home Rule/revision House the the constitutional change of powers of imposed Lords) being English it However, the of on was electorate. was the apparent permanence of the pattern after 1979 which contributed to nonEnglish discontent. There was an additional paradox that the Conservative Party saw itself as the Unionist Party. Only fleetingly during the i97o Edward Heath had it devolution to government of appeared contemplate Conservative had draw to to try governments naturally with equanimity. from Scotland MPs fill Wales in their to the the and posts required upon Scottish Office and Welsh Office respectively. Two consequences flowed from this imperative. There was less scope for Scottish Conservative MPs to in British it their though make government, mark major offices within was Secretary impossible. George for be Younger, to not example, moved of


State for Defence after a period as Secretary of State for Scotland. No Welsh Conservative MP filled a major post in the British government and indeed Prime Ministers had difficulty with the post of Secretary of State for Wales. In 1979, the Secretary of State sat for a Welsh constituency (Pembrokeshire, `Little England beyond Wales') but his successors were Englishmen and they sat for English constituencies. As individuals, they may have been men of distinction, but their evident lack of Welshness could not be other than a handicap in `representing Wales' in various contexts. The Conservative MPs the paucity of non-English was second consequence of inevitably that British governments were increasingly perceived as being in described be English as a multiplier effect governments - what might reality developed. The

to a commitment result was that the party with the most explicit increasingly Britain it to service was unable adequately. certain concept of General Election be held The outcome to suggest, the 1992 could of however, that this position, though not ideal, did not necessarily endanger defence Union' in `in `Britain'. John Major had campaigned the of vigorously increased their share of the Scottish vote by Scotland and the Conservatives In (to 26 per cent) and gained one additional seat. two percentage points dropped It lost. Wales, one percentage two point was and seats were English for its its be that the to majority on government relied continued existence.

You may find this exposition illuminating but doubt its bearing either on the foreign British doubt be It the content of policy. would no management or distinctively Scottish that there to a was suppose perspective unconvincing NAFTA Welsh but it is least ASEAN perspective on arguable or a at on is `British crisis', now extending over a quarter of a century, that the inextricably bound up with the `Britain and Europe' debate over the same British European Since the the membership of 1975 referendum on period. Economic Community, a firmer commitment to that membership has been discernible in Scotland and Wales, as opposed to England. Both the Scottish have warmed Party and Plaid Cymru National to the notion of `independence in Europe' as an objective. The role played by Dublin in Community affairs, and the benefits the Irish Republic has been perceived Cardiff. in Edinburgh increasing been have to gain, and observed with envy Pressure has grown for both the Scottish and Welsh Offices, and nonin both have bodies their own channels of to countries, governmental in direct `Brussels' to and, effect, to conduct an embryonic communication been Secretaries State foreign have, chary of policy. of on the whole, mini developments but have been them. to resist able entirely not such Influential opinion in Scotland and Wales has become well-informed on the brought federal in Germany, about government on the changes nature of



in France after 1982, on regional the decade of `regionalization' in Spain its has long become during After government and assertive. 1983, in for Labour Party the the opposition, years swung towards support European Community it the time at same as renewed, with greater its Scotland for form devolution to commitment unanimity, of political some Wales. and It is the outcome of the 1997 General Election brings these which developments into sharp focus and may require us to think about Britishness British and British foreign policy in a new and uncomfortable way. government seems certain to move into uncharted waters and paradoxes, Some to not of them were already present say contradictions, may abound. in the final phase of Conservative government. Malcolm Rifkind was the first Foreign Secretary to have previously been Secretary of State for Scotland. With this background and as an Edinburgh MP and Scottish lawyer, he experienced in his own person, dare one say, some of the tensions which have just been alluded to as he sought to express a British English his Cabinet Europe policy towards which reflected the mindset of had has Secretary Foreign British No to operate amidst colleagues. other in defeat in His the 1997 and the complete general election such complexity. from Conservative Scotland Party in representation at elimination of the Westminster would suggest that an era has come to an end. No `British' European foreign secretary committed to to the negative approach integration adopted by the Conservative Party or at least some sections of it, could be other than an English MP. The Conservative Party has, of In from Welsh been representation. parliamentary eliminated course, also English. become has British entirely terms, the most party If a British Labour government had been formed without a majority in England or with only a small majority in England, then European policy burgeoning English have the risk of pinning up against a run could Referendum in is It the that parenthesis perhaps worth noting nationalism. Party polled less well in Scotland and Wales than in England - its posed Brussels' little `Westminster or struck chord with substantial alternative from Westminster, bent to the on prising power electorate sections of Cardiff. Edinburgh degree, However, lesser to the scale of and greater or its English Labour the clear majority, means that whatever victory, with difficulties may be encountered in executing a European policy it will not be English by been `Celts' `forced' have the the one on as might otherwise in Europe foreign British British a policy will reflect a case. perspective on difficulties happen between Even way that could not 1979 and 1992. so, some is foreseen. be Secretary It happens Foreign also a that the new can so Scot also representing a Scottish constituency (as are his colleagues the Defence). Chancellor for State Exchequer Secretary of the and the of


However, one supposes that in Scotland there will also be a Parliament. Its brief, with or without tax-raising powers, will not extend to foreign policy. It be Westminster Parliament British Foreign to the that this will still Secretary (who happens to be a Scot) will be responsible. It so happens too Douglas Henderson Mr is another Scot, though representing an English that constituency. No one can tell, however, how this scenario will play in practice. Particularly in regard to Europe is it in fact possible to draw a clear line between domestic and foreign policy? We know how foreign policy evolves in federal states and our own experience as a country hitherto has been of its it in in but how a constitutional system a unitary state, evolves evolution is be likely be the to to the one nor completely neither other which appears Speaking for is become likely `Britain' to much more problematic. in Edinburgh Cardiff in in Will and perhaps also not politicians complicated. due course push for some kind of `foreign policy' at least where Europe is Britain it is does indeed likely Labour If then mean new new concerned? foreign in formulation the that new channels of communication policy will of It is believe, be however, that the new to also possible necessary. also is likely be in to structure which put place over the next constitutional be It is half-way house stable. not a which cannot couple of years will final into its Britain break-up the of possibly endure and only postpones final development erosion which would produce the constituent countries -a its surviving attributes of world status. of however, is into these realms, something which even the most enter This lecture has historians do. to ought not contemporary of contemporary `us' it have `we' but be designed been tell to where should going will not if it British its to contributes explaining why we are where purpose served Britishness foreign both and with our policy. with our we are, To





Professor Robbins is currently Vice-Chancellor University Wales, the of of Lampeter and Senior Vice-Chancellor University Wales. He has the of of Chairs held Modern History University College North the previously of at of Wales at Bangor, and the University Glasgow. His of most recent include: History, Religion publications and Identity in Modern British History (1993); Politicians, Diplomacy and War in Modern British History (1994); and A Bibliography of British Histo y, 1914-1989 (1996). He has just completed two further studies: Great Britain; Institutions, Identities and the Idea of Britishness be World History Since this published which will year, and 1945 to be Oxford University Press in by 1998. published






documents from the archives of collection of the Foreign Office Commonwealth is by Her published authorisation and of Government. The Editors have been Majesty's the accorded freedom in the selection and arrangement customary of documents. This

SERIES 1 (1945-1950) Published I Volume

The Conference

Potsdam, at




Conferences Washington

Conversations and Moscow and



Britain States



Britain America: Atomic Energy, and JuY Food, December 1945 1946



Germany December







America: and Loan, August

and 1945 Europe,



11945 London,


Negotiation of the December 1945




i945 Iran,



January i 946

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Plan, The Schuman Western European

the Council Integration,

Europe and of May 1950-




Editors of

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Changes in British



to Stalinism

No. 7 Russian and

No. 8



Britishness and British Foreign Policy  

Professor Keith Robbins considers what it means to be British and how this has underpinned British foreign policy. in the 1997 FCO Annual...