Churchill and British Euroscepticism

Europhiles and eurosceptics in Britain have both adopted Winston Churchill and hold him up as the poster child of their respective positions.



Two of his quotes have been repeatedly used (or misused, according to your interpretations of events) by the two camps. The first one relates to 'United States of Europe' and the second on Britain's relation with such an entity. In a speech given at Zurich University in 1946, Churchill outlined his vision for a prosperous Europe which also doubled up as a remedy for the war ravaged impoverished continent

'...there is a remedy, if it were generally and spontaneously adopted, would as if by miracle transform the whole scene and would in a few years make all of Europe...as free and happy as Switzerland is today. What is this sovereign remedy? It is to recreate the European family, or as much if it as we can, and provide it with a structure  under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe.....the first step is to form a Council of Europe'1
Europhiles point to this quote and claim Churchill for their cause. What they often conveniently forget to mention is Churchill's views on Britain's role in this 'United Europe' which are often cited by the eurosceptics who are just as keen on having Churchill as an honorary member of their club. Churchill outlined this much earlier in 1930, responding again to the idea of an 'United Europe' mooted by the French Prime Minister Aristide Briand
'We see nothing but good and hope in a richer, freer, more contented European commonality. But we have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked but not compromised. We are interested and associated but not absorbed' 2
So what is going on? Was Churchill an europhile or an eurosceptic? To answer the question, I think one has to look at another Churchillian idea- the three great circles
'As I look out upon the future of our country in the changing scene of human destiny I feel the existence of three great circles among the free nations and democracies. I almost wish I had a blackboard. I would make a picture for you... it would illustrate the point I am anxious for you to hold in your minds. The first circle for us is naturally the British Commonwealth and Empire, with all that that comprises. Then there is also the English-speaking World in which we, Canada, and the other British Dominions and the United States play so important a part. And finally there is United Europe. These three majestic circles are coexistent and if they are linked together there is no force or combination which could overthrow them or even challenge them. Now if you think of the three interlinked circles you will see that 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 have the opportunity of joining them all together. If we 50 rise to the occasion in the years that are to come it may be found that once again we hold the key to opening a safe and happy future to humanity, and will gain for ourselves gratitude and fame. ' 3
I have produced below the image of the 'three great circles' that Churchill wanted his audience to see but could not conjure up due to the lack of a blackboard



The 'three circle' model illustrates both Churchill's brilliance and his blind spot. He fully anticipated a federal Europe that is a countervailing force to both the USA and the communist block but he loathed to accept that Britain is no longer the superpower that it once was and still thought that it would be possible for Britain to be at the heart of at least two of the circles- English speaking nations and Commonwealth and the Empire and wield its global influence from there. He fundamentally misinterpreted the future of the Commonwealth and the Empire and an imagined community of nations bound together by the English language. The main reason for the Commonwealth's existence in the 21st Century has to the Commonwealth Games as there is very little else that binds these ex British colonies together in the present time.

So the question whether Churchill was an europhile or an eurosceptic can be reformulated into two more precise questions

The first question is whether Churchill would have approved of the European Union as it currently stands? The answer to this has to be in the affirmative as the EU and more precisely the eurozone approximates pretty closely the ideal of the 'United States of Europe' that he espoused.

The second question is whether Churchill would have approved of Britain's position in the EU? The answer to this is, in my opinion, again a 'Yes'. The 'romantic' Churchill would no doubt have been disappointed with the present pointless Commonwealth, the post war decimation of the Empire and the non existent community of English speaking nations, but the pragmatist Churchill always appreciated the need for Britain to be in a block of nations and in the absence of the blocks that were preferred by him, he would have embraced the membership of the European Union..on this I have no doubt

1. Winston Churchill's Speech, Zurich University, 1946
2. Biddeleux, Robert; Taylor, Richard (1996). European Integration and Disintegration: east and west. Routledge. pp. 37–38
3.Winston S. Churchill, ‘Conservative Mass Meeting: a speech at Llandudno, 9 October 1948’, Europe Unite : speeches 1947 & 1948, London : Cassell, 1950, p. 416-418

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