FEBRUARY 27, 1964
The Economic Consequences of General de Gaulle
AN ADDRESS BY
Sir John Wedgwood,
CHAIRMAN AND MANAGING DIRECTOR JOHN WEDGWOOD AND SONS LIMITED
The President, Mr. Arthur J. Langley
Josiah Wedgwood's descendants have included Charles Darwin, the famous biologist; Ralph Vaughan Williams, the brilliant composer and musician, and the great, great, great grandson who is physically a virtual reincarnation of his famous ancestor--our guest of today. No stranger to the Empire Club, Sir John last visited us on April 2, 1959. He is a man who has blended an extensive industrial, political and military background, built on a Cambridge foundation, into a business career worthy of his famous name. Multilingual and widely travelled, he has an insatiable curiosity that knows no bounds, whether it leads him to the top of one of the Alps, or deep on a cave diving expedition--two of his favourite hobbies. It was five years ago that this man of so many talents and such diverse interests gave us a valuable new insight into the problems of Canadian trade and we warmly welcome him back to discuss the fascinating subject--"The Economic Consequences of General de Gaulle". Gentlemen, an old friend, Sir John Wedgwood.
SIR JOHN WEDGWOOD:
On February 6th of this year there took place in the House of Commons in London a day's debate on "Commonwealth Trade and Technical Assistance". During this debate, Mr. Harold Wilson, leader of the Labour Party and possibly future Prime Minister, made a fifty minute speech, from which the following is an important passage:
"On 26th October, speaking in Wales, I invited the Prime Minister to say clearly whether he would insist on our five safeguards as a condition for further negotiations about entry. So good were the communications between Pwllheli and Kinross that the Prime Minister answered this challenge the same evening. I was grateful to him. I felt that this elegantly worded reply was certainly in the very highest tradition of British pantomime. I will read it now and see whether the House does not agree with me."
Mr. Wilson quoted the Prime Minister as follows:
"The Common Market opens up an enormous single market on our doorstep. And it is in the interests of our progressive industry and our farmers that we should be a part of this market. But we should only go in if the political and economic terms are suitable. When we applied for entry the terms were not suitable and we stayed out. I do not know if circumstances will arise in which we can open the question again, but if we do we shall still demand the right terms for our entry.
Sir Alec (Douglas-Home) added with a smile: 'If Mr. Wilson's questions are so easy as that I am going to send him a telegram and ask him to come round the byelection meetings with me."'
Mr. Wilson then continued:
"It is a pity he did not.
That was his view of what happened in Brussels: 'The terms were not suitable and we stayed out.' Is that what he really thinks? He was Foreign Secretary at the time. Did not they tell him anything? Did not they tell him about General de Gaulle? I had better explain to him. It was not the Government who said 'No' at Brussels. We were all ready to say 'Yes', falling over ourselves, apparently, to say 'Yes'.
The Prime Minister's account is totally different from that of his right hon. Friend's, because the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), on 1 lth February 1963, during the inquest into the Brussels breakdown, said this:
'The negotiations did not break down, as they might have done, on a long-drawn-out series of detailed bargaining.
'If the European vision has been obscured it has not been by a minor obstruction on one side or the other. It was brought to an end by a dramatic, if somewhat brutal, stroke of policy. As I said in my broadcast the next day, the end did not come because the discussions were menaced with failure. On the contrary, it was because they threatened to succeed.
That was the statement of the then Prime Minister. The then Lord Privy Seal, now President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for heaven knows what, said this on the 12th February: 'The Prime Minister said yesterday, and I said in Brussels, that we were on the point of reaching a conclusion to the negotiations ... with the intervention of the French Foreign Minister, we came to the end of these negotiations.'
I think that was a pretty fair account of what happened. The Lord Privy Seal was there and he got it about right, but nobody thought of telling the then Foreign Secretary. No; in the dream world that he was living in:
'the terms were not suitable and we stayed out."'
Later Mr. Wilson added:
"There is a great deal Of confusion about where the Government stands on this matter. The right hon. Gentleman, plainly, has evaded every question put to him on this, but he cannot go on evading it.
Conscious that perhaps no one has yet told him what my question was, I will repeat it now, across the Table, 'Will he give a pledge that no Government of which he is the head will consider entry into the Common Market on any terms which would reduce Britain's existing freedom to trade with the Commonwealth?
On behalf of my party, I give that pledge. I put the question to the right hon. Gentleman. The House, and, I believe, the country will expect an answer."
Now what is the meaning of all this? The answer is that Conservative politicians, if returned to power at the next election, would like to start up again negotiations for the U.K. to join the E.E.C. They do not want, however, to say so publicly because they are afraid that many of their supporters do not like the idea and would not vote for them. Just over twelve months ago they were much more frank about their plans. Why this change? The answer is plain. Public opinion has changed. This I attribute to five causes.
1. We were told and led to believe that if Britain did not join Europe, our prosperity would decline and our trade in this vast market would suffer serious damage. This has not happened so far. In fact Britain is more prosperous than ever before. Our exports have increased, especially in Europe.
2. We believed that the six countries of the E.E.C. were more progressive than we, would grow richer much faster and that we would be left out in the cold. In fact this has not happened.
3. We assumed that the E.E.C. countries were solving their political problems and moving towards unity. Largely due to the policies of General de Gaulle, this does not seem to be happening very fast.
4. We were under the impression that if we entered the Common Market we would quickly become the dominant power. This now too seems rather unlikely.
5. The ruthless stroke of the General has been regarded as an insult to the British people, although this is not generally talked about. Argument does not easily cause people to change their minds, insult does. Many erstwhile strong pro-Europeans in Britain now think quite otherwise.
Had it not been for the General's policy, the U.K. would now be a member of the E.E.C. Had this happened, there would probably already have been a general election in Britain, which the Conservative Party would probably have won as a result of their triumphant European victory. In fact the election has been delayed and there is much doubt about its outcome. If in fact the British Labour Party wins the impending election, it will be largely a consequence of General de Gaulle.
The attitude of the British Labour Party towards the Common Market and Commonwealth is not surprising. Socialist parties throughout the world believe in central planning. The planned economy must be a national economy. In the present state of human political development, people will not accept planning from abroad. The expression, "International Socialist" is a contradiction of terms. National economic planners must insist on the right to control imports and would like to have power to influence exports also.
Socialists have always had to face a dilemma. On the one hand, they believe in security, equality and planning; on the other, in liberty and international fraternity. These two sets of ideas are incompatible. The idea of an economically united Europe has put them squarely on the spot. Until recently the party was disunited on this issue, indeed many Socialists held contradictory views at the same time.
Fifty-six weeks ago, when I still believed that Britain would enter the Common Market, I was waiting with fascination to see what decision would be made. Mr. Wilson and other Labour leaders must be grateful to the General for having solved their problem. He has united the Labour Party behind an anti-Common Market policy. I do not wish to imply that the attitude of British Socialists on this issue is really insincere. It is not.
Twenty-five years ago, the underfed British prolitariat was largely disinterested in the Commonwealth which was identified with conservative imperialism. It is quite different today. Millions of British workers and craftsmen, now vastly more prosperous, have, due to increased emigration, brothers, sisters or cousins in the dominions: so that many of them have a real emotional interest in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and in other nations of the Commonwealth. This is immediately apparent to anyone who visits, for instance, working men's clubs anywhere in Britain. Twenty-five years ago the British middle classes had a passionate, if sometimes vague, belief in our leadership of Commonwealth and a distrust of European foreigners. In recent years this also has changed. Our importance within the Empire has declined. Canada and Australia, for example, are now large independent countries. There has been an enormous development in travel in Europe and a better understanding of Germans, Spaniards, Italians, and even Frenchmen. To the British middle classes the Commonwealth has become less emotionally important and Europe more real and less hostile. (In particular they received a rude shock at the hands of General de Gaulle.) I do not wish to imply that there has been a radical change in opinion but merely that members of the Labour Party and Trades Unions as a whole in Britain now have rather more sensible views of the Commonwealth while the middle classes have become more cosmopolitan and cynical.
In my view, the issue of Britain's entry in the Common Market cannot be revived for many years. If re-elected, the Conservative Party would find little support for re-opening the issue. Even if it turns out that General de Gaulle is mortal and he is called upon to deputize for the Almighty, renewal of negotiations would be blocked from the British side.
What of the future? I am convinced that public opinion in the U.K. is now strongly to favour general tariff reductions. I will give a simple, if egotistical, example of this. I recently wrote a letter to the London Daily Telegraph, a serious newspaper with a very large circulation. In this letter I demanded unilateral action to reduce our tariffs to zero over a period of four years, except in cases where the beneficiaries could show that the maintenance of protection would be in the national interest. The editor was kind enough to print this letter at the top of the correspondence column so presumably he took the proposal seriously. I was looking forward to an interesting, if controversial correspondence. There was not one single reply. No one was prepared to argue with me.
I believe that there is also a strong feeling in the U.S. that the free world must move towards freer trade. It is natural that in Canada and Australia and other nations of the Commonwealth with new and growing industries this view should not be so firmly held. Nevertheless public opinion in Canada and elsewhere will, I believe, be prepared to accept reductions in tariffs in return for equal advantages in overseas markets.
It is easy to believe that Commies are wicked or crazy. People do not realize how bad an impression on world opinion our recent history creates. Prior to 1945 the story of private enterprise was one of long periods of desperate unemployment, continual obstruction of international trade and a series of disastrous wars. For nineteen years only we have been reformed characters and even now we still try to deny one another the benefits of the free exchange of goods and services upon which our whole system is supposed to be based. It is not really surprising that the world is full of Communists.
The success of the Kennedy round would represent philosophical victory of immense importance for the free world. Its propaganda value behind the Iron Curtain would be enormous.
I am afraid that the chief threat to success arrives from the policies of the E.E.C. and of the French Government. The rise of France during the past six years from near anarchy to her present splendid position has been an incomparable benefit to the free world. Chaos in France would have meant the ruin of Western Europe and a triumph for Russia. France is the linch-pin of European unity. We must, therefore, face her very special problems.
She has a long tradition of international trade. She is rich and self-sufficient yet has a backward agriculture. Her productivity is about half that of Britain. Indeed the whole of continental Western Europe has economic problems which it is not always easy for us to understand but at the same time require special consideration. If we are to overcome these problems and reach an understanding, a generous approach to them is the best assurance of success.
Thanks of this meeting were expressed by Colonel Robert Hilborn, a Director of the Club.