Winston Churchill: A founder of the European Union

Jon Danzig |

Leaders of the European Union should revive Winston Churchill’s post-war vision for a kind of  ‘United States of Europe’, urged  EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso this weekend.

Churchill, one of the founders of the European Union

‘We need to show the same political courage and vision of Winston Churchill,’ said Mr Barroso.  ‘He was a man of foresight with an acute sense of history, often ahead of prevailing opinion, never shying away from saying what some might choose to ignore.’

But eurosceptics were having none of it. UKIP leader Nigel Farage said that the Commission president had ‘hijacked one phrase’ of Churchill and taken it out of context, ‘to paint him as a fan of political union in Europe.’

Mr Farage added, ‘Churchill once said, “If Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, she must always choose the open sea”. Hardly encouraging words for the Commission.’

(See my separate article about that quote: How a Churchill quote was ‘stitched up’ to support Brexit)

Hundreds of mostly anonymous eurosceptics flocked to the reader’s columns of The Telegraph and other UK newspapers to claim that Churchill would have been on their side, and he would have voted UKIP.

So who’s right?

Well Sir Winston Churchill isn’t here to say, and it’s impossible to know what he would think of the world as it is now, 50 years after his death.  But I believe that Nigel Farage is not correct in stating that Churchill’s call for a ‘United States of Europe’ was taken out of context by Barroso; or that Churchill would not have been a fan of political union in Europe.  Neither do I believe for a moment that Churchill would vote UKIP, or that he was in any way a ‘eurosceptic’.

Churchill wasn’t a little Englander; not only did he promote and support a ‘kind of’ United States of Europe, in which Britain would play a key role in helping to create, he also had a future vision of world government.  I feel that those who now state otherwise are either misquoting Churchill,  or more mischievously, accurately quoting Churchill but attributing the wrong date and circumstances.

What eurosceptics don’t do is acknowledge Churchill’s deep passion for an ambitious political union of governments.

After all, it was Prime Minister Churchill who announced in June 1940 the ‘Declaration of Union’ between Great Britain and France. With the full backing of his Cabinet, Churchill stated, ‘The two governments declare that France and Great Britain shall no longer be two nations, but one Franco-British Union… Every citizen of France will enjoy immediately citizenship of Great Britain; every British subject will become a citizen of France.’

Anglo-Franco stamp

An Anglo-French stamp was even designed to commemorate the proposed Anglo-Franco union, but the Nazi invasion of France scuppered those plans. The proposals did demonstrate, however, that Churchill was in favour of political union between European countries.

After the first British victory of the Second World War at El Alamein, Churchill wrote to his foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, on 21 October 1942:

‘Hard as it is to say now.. I look forward to a United States of Europe, in which the barriers between the nations will be greatly minimised and unrestricted travel will be possible.’

(In a lecture about this in December 2011, Oxford Professor of Government, Vernon Bogdanor, described Churchill’s letter as, ‘remarkably prescient’ adding that he thought the comment, ‘would get him expelled from the Conservative Party today’.)

In his famous Zurich speech of 1946, Churchill said, ‘We must build a kind of United States of Europe.. The structure of the United States of Europe, if well and truly built, will be such as to make the material strength of a single state less important.. If at first all the States of Europe are not willing or able to join the Union, we must nevertheless proceed to assemble and combine those who will and those who can.’

At London’s Albert Hall, in May 1947, just a few months after his Zurich speech, Churchill spoke as Chairman and Founder of the United Europe Movement to ‘present the idea of a United Europe in which our country will play a decisive part..’

Churchill argued that Britain and France should be the, `founder-partners in this movement’ and concluded,  `Britain will have to play her full part as a member of the European family’.

In May 1948 Churchill said in the opening speech to the Congress of Europe in Holland, that the drive towards a United Europe, ‘should be a movement of the people, not parties’.  (See also The Sydney Morning Herald and British Pathe news report).

Churchill, who also proposed a European ‘Charter’ and ‘Court’ of Human Rights, continued, ‘We aim at the eventual participation of all the peoples throughout the continent whose society and way of life are in accord with the Charter of Human Rights.’

During this momentous speech, Churchill proclaimed:

‘We cannot aim at anything less than the Union of Europe as a whole, and we look forward with confidence to the day when that Union will be achieved.’

And Churchill went much further than the idea of the immediate and urgent creation of a United States of Europe.  Looking boldly to the future he stated, ‘We must endeavour by patience and faithful service to prepare for the day when there will be an effective world government resting on the main groupings of mankind.’

• How Winston Churchill, Britain’s greatest war leader, promoted “the Union of Europe as a whole” after the Second World War. Talk by journalist Jon Danzig.  (Click the arrow to view video – 4 minutes)

In October 1948, at a Conservative Mass Meeting at Llandudno, Churchill made clear that Britain held a unique position at the heart of ‘three majestic circles’: the ‘Empire and Commonwealth’, ‘the English speaking world’ and a ‘United Europe’.   

Churchill described these three circles as ‘co-existent’ and ‘linked together’.  He said, We are the only country which has a great part in every one of them. We stand, in fact, at the very point of junction, and here in this Island at the centre of the seaways and perhaps of the airways also, we have the opportunity of joining them all together.’ 

One  year on, in August 1949, at the first meeting of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, Churchill delivered his speech in French, and said:

‘We are reunited here, in this new Assembly, not as representatives of our several countries or various political parties, but as Europeans forging ahead, hand in hand, and if necessary elbow to elbow, to restore the former glories of Europe..

‘There is no reason for us not to succeed in achieving our goal and laying the foundation of a United Europe. A Europe whose moral design will win the respect and acknowledgement of all humanity, and whose physical strength will be such that no person will dare to disturb it as it marches peacefully towards the future.’

Later in November 1949, at a speech given for the European Movement at Kingsway Hall, London, Churchill said:

‘The British Government have rightly stated that they cannot commit this country to entering any European Union without the agreement of the other members of the British Commonwealth. We all agree with that statement. But no time must be lost in discussing the question with the Dominions and seeking to convince them that their interests as well as ours lie in a United Europe.’

Churchill added, `The French Foreign Minister, M. Schuman, declared in the French Parliament this week that, ‘Without Britain there can be no Europe.’   This is entirely true.  But our friends on the Continent need have no misgivings. Britain is an integral part of Europe, and we mean to play our part in the revival of her prosperity and greatness.’

The following year, in 1950, Churchill called for the creation of a European Army ‘..under a unified command, and in which we should all bear a worthy and honourable part.’  (France objected to this plan).

Notice how in his speeches, Churchill said we’ must build a United States of Europe; not ‘they’. He said ‘we’ aim at the eventual participation of the peoples of Europe; not ‘they’. He saidwe’ must assemble and combine countries to join the Union of Europe; not ‘they’.  He said ‘we’ should create a European army; not ‘they’ It’s surely beyond doubt that Churchill wanted the UK to take part in the unification of Europe.

The European  Union itself lists  Sir Winston Churchill as one of its ‘eleven founding fathers’.

Edward Heath, who knew Churchill, claimed he wasn’t a eurosceptic

In an article for The Independent newspaper in 1996 by former UK prime minister, Edward Heath – who I interviewed when I was a teenager – he wrote, ‘I knew Winston Churchill, I worked with him, I stayed with him at his home, and I have read his speeches many times. I can assure you that Winston Churchill was no Eurosceptic.’

On Churchill’s call in 1946 for a ‘United States of Europe’, Edward Heath clarified, ‘I readily accept that at that time Churchill did not envisage Britain being a full member of this united Europe, but in gleefully seizing upon this point, Euro-sceptics have misunderstood or misrepresented the nature of Churchill’s attitude to full British participation in Europe. This reluctance was based on circumstance; it was not opposition based on principle. And the circumstances have changed in such a way that I am sure Churchill would now favour a policy that enabled Britain to be at the heart of the European Union.’

Jon Danzig interviewed PM Edward Heath

He added, ‘Churchill would be the first to realise that in the world today, where an isolated Britain would be dwarfed by five great powers, the United States, Russia, China, Japan and the European Union, Britain’s full participation in the European Union is vital, both for Britain and the rest of the world.’

When read fully and in context, my opinion is that Churchill not only enthusiastically believed in the ever-closer union of Europe, in which the UK would play a leading role, but also eventually a world government.  He was, at the least, a confederalist, but I would also argue, even a ‘kind of’ federalist too.  He had great vision for a political ‘union of nations’ which it seems few are now fully recognising or acknowledging.

And although it seems that Churchill didn’t at first envisage Britain being a full member of  ‘a kind of’ United States of Europe, it’s clear that Churchill’s views later changed, as the British Empire and Commonwealth diminished, and Britain’s world influence shifted.  (Churchill was renowned for changing his views according to circumstances: he started his political life as a Conservative MP; then resigned to become a Liberal MP; then resigned from the Liberals to become a Conservative MP again).  

During a debate in June 1950 in the House of Commons to discuss a united Europe, Churchill said that he could not  ‘at present’  foresee Britain being ‘a member of a Federal Union of Europe’. However, Churchill went on to explain that this was  primarily because of Britain’s position, ‘at the centre of the British Empire and Commonwealth’, and, ‘our fraternal association with the United States of America.’

Crucially, in answering the question  ‘Are you prepared to part with any degree of national sovereignty in any circumstances for the sake of a larger synthesis?’, Churchill responded:

‘The Conservative and Liberal Parties say, without hesitation, that we are prepared to consider, and if convinced to accept, the abrogation of national sovereignty, provided that we are satisfied with the conditions and the safeguards.. The Conservative and Liberal Parties declare that national sovereignty is not inviolable, and that it may be resolutely diminished for the sake of all the men in all the lands finding their way home together.’

Commenting on this in his autobiography, ‘The course of my life’, Edward Heath wrote, ‘This shows conclusively that, for all his practical reservations during the late 1940s and early 1950s, Churchill was never in principle against our membership of the European Community.’

Churchill made his last speech about Europe at London’s Central Hall, Westminster in July 1957; some four months after six founding nations established the European Economic Community by signing the Treaty of Rome (France, Italy, West Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg).  Churchill welcomed the formation of a ‘common market’ by the six, provided that ‘the whole of free Europe will have access’.  Churchill added, ‘we genuinely wish to join’.

But Churchill also warned:

 ‘If, on the other hand, the European trade community were to be permanently restricted to the six nations, the results might be worse than if nothing were done at all – worse for them as well as for us. It would tend not to unite Europe but to divide it – and not only in the economic field.’  (Source: Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches Vol. 8 page 8681)

During the 1960s Churchill’s health rapidly declined, but his support for a united Europe didn’t. According to Churchill’s last Private Secretary, Sir Anthony Montague Brown, in August 1961, Churchill wrote to his constituency Chairman:

‘I think that the Government are right to apply to join the European Economic Community..’

In this letter, also quoted in Sir Anthony’s book, ‘Long Sunset’ (pages 273-274), Churchill supported the ‘welding’ of West Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg into ‘an organic whole’, which he described as a ‘happy outcome’ of the European Economic Community. Churchill added, ‘We might well play a great part in these developments to the profit of not only ourselves, but of our European friends also.’

Sir Anthony also confirmed that in 1963, just two years before Churchill died, he wrote in a private letter:

‘The future of Europe if Britain were to be excluded is black indeed.’

Telegraph tempers: on whose side would Churchill be today?

Of course, my comments and opinions will not satisfy the eurosceptics.  Nor those readers of  The Telegraph today who accused me of being a ‘mendacious fool’ lying about Churchill, who they claim may have supported a united Europe, but didn’t want Britain to have any part of it.

Another reader, refreshingly commenting under her real name of Michele Keighley, firmly stated that Churchill was with the ‘Anglo-sphere’ and not the European Union.  She quoted Churchill as saying, ‘We have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked but not combined. We are interested and associated but not absorbed.’  

(But what is rarely revealed by eurosceptics about this quote is that Churchill wrote it for America’s Saturday Evening Post on 15 February 1930).

To cool-down what was becoming a very heated and in some quarters a nasty exchange on The Telegraph about whose side Churchill would be on today, I posted this final response to Ms Keighley and almost 1,000 other readers comments:

If you go to ten historians, you’ll get ten different points of view. I have expressed my opinion from Churchill’s speeches, and they were quoted accurately, as you have also quoted Churchill accurately. I don’t think either of us are being dishonest. Churchill was a complicated man who for sure supported the idea of a European Union, and I feel he wanted the UK to play a full part in that. Of course, it’s open to debate and interpretation.

‘Churchill’s not here. We need to make up our own minds. I urge people to have a mature, respectful debate. No argumentum ad hominem. We surely want this to be civil, and not a civil war.’













  • Jon Danzig next to a tribute to Sir Winston Churchill at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Churchill is recognised as one of the founders of the European Union and has an entire building named after him at the European Parliament.

Question asked on Quora:

‘Why is an openly racist leader like Winston Churchill still celebrated in Britain?’  Click to read Jon Danzig’s reply.

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