As the clock ticks down to the 2016 EU Referendum, a display by the Churchill Archives Centre examines Britain’s relationship with Europe since 1945.

Display on Europe

Holding the papers of nearly 600 important political, scientific, military, and diplomatic figures from the Churchill era and after, the Churchill Archives Centre is naturally an exceptional resource for studying the history of European integration and disintegration.

The Archives hold a number of the original documents present at key turning points in the post-war saga of European unity and disunity – from Churchill’s 1946 speech at the University of Zurich, where he called for a “United States of Europe”, to Thatcher’s 1988 speech to the College of Europe in Bruges, in which she warned of the dangers of “a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels”.

First page of Churchill's United States of Europe speech

Churchill spoke at the University of Zurich in September 1946, a few months after giving his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech, and called for the creation of a “kind of United States of Europe” to guard against the threat posed by the Soviet Union. Reference: Churchill Papers, CHUR 5/8/145. Copyright © Winston S. Churchill.

Some of the richest sources on the emergence of the movement towards greater European integration in the aftermath of World War Two can be found in the personal and policy papers belonging to members of the Conservative Party. Correspondence held in the collections of prominent Europeanist Duncan Sandys (DSND 9), as well as Leo Amery (especially AMEL 1/7) and Julian Amery (especially AMEJ 1/3), give a powerful sense of the European Movement’s original aims and ideals, as a variety of global statesmen, economists, lawyers, and political theorists reflected on the potential for new forms of transnational co-operation to meet the demands of a new world order.

A wealth of material captures the interaction between left-wing party politics in Britain and Europe, such as Labour leader and European Union Commissioner Neil Kinnock’s correspondence with European statesmen and socialists (KNNK 8); the Labour Party’s ‘answers to voters’ on the doorstep in the run-up to the 1984 European Parliament elections – “These elections may be the last chance for four years to say you don’t like the way Britain is being run” (KNNK 3/1/9); or the illustrated pro-Common Market pamphlets and other literature contained in the papers of John Burns Hynd (HYND), a former railway clerk and Labour MP who devoted his career to promoting good relations between Great Britain and Germany and Austria after the 1940s.

Meanwhile, the reflections of diplomats recorded by the Churchill Archive Centre’s British Diplomatic Oral History Programme give an unparalleled insight into the perennially tricky balancing act between Britain’s relationship with the continent, and its ties to the empire, Commonwealth, and United States.

Vocal Eurosceptics are by no means absent from the collections. A file of ephemera and correspondence which passed across the desk of Enoch Powell in the early 1990s records the earliest attempts of the fledging UK Independence Party to gain a foothold in British politics – including a letter from one Nigel Farage, asking for the divisive politician’s support when standing as an MP for the first time in the 1994 Eastleigh by-election: “[A] voice from you could transform things and put the issue to the forefront…the electorate are beginning to wake from their long sleep. Come and give them another jog.” (POLL 7/18).

Heath's 'No' postcard

Anti-Common Market postcard sent anonymously to Edward Heath’s Housing Minister Julian Amery in the early 1970s. Reference: Julian Amery Papers, AMEJ 1/3/38.

The Archives Centre also holds material from civic pressure groups, and political and social survey organisations, demonstrating the extent to which the issue of ‘Europe’ could become entangled with, or a proxy for, everyday domestic concerns. The Julian Amery and Enoch Powell collections contain a number of files of letters and postcards from constituents and ordinary members of the public (often devastatingly more eloquent than their political leaders) for whom Britain’s relationship with the continent – and its implications for democracy and world peace – was never less than a burning issue (e.g. AMEJ 1/3/38; POLL 7/1-5).

As both sides in the 2016 Referendum campaign ask in which direction Churchill and Thatcher ‘would have’ cast their vote, returning to the sources in their original contexts can reveal hidden depths to modern Britons’ fascinating – often fraught, occasionally affectionate, but rarely indifferent – relationship with Europe and its institutions.

— Heidi Egginton, Archives Assistant

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