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Monday, January 15, 2007

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and France

Documents recently uncovered in British archives reveal that a beleaguered French leadership proposed a full union between Britain and France in the 1950s.

They were prepared to accept the crown, join the Commonwealth and share common citizenship, according to proposals made by French Prime Minister Guy Mollet in 1956, at the height of the Suez crisis.

Needless to say, the discovery of this jaw-dropping proposal, which Mollet quietly shelved after Suez was lost and tensions between Israel and Jordan dissipated somewhat, hasn't impressed French nationalists very much.

And it certainly offers a different perspective of Anglo-French relations to de Gaulle twice vetoing Britain's entry into the EU only a few years later.

Though of course there is a precedent - England did occupy regions of France around Calais and Bordeaux in the early Middle Ages, and they still bear traces of their lost English heritage in the ancient architecture of those regions.

Nevertheless, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and France would have turned Irish and world politics on its head, had it actually happened.

There would have been a different centre to the burgeoning EU than the subsequent Franco-German axis that developed later. There would have been a ready made superpower in Western Europe to offer an alternative pole of power to the Eastern Bloc and America.

English dominance of the isles would have been exceedingly dissipated by French influence. It would be much harder for a country of 45 million people to dominate 100 million of a total union, rather than just the 60 million of the isles.

One intriguing question is whether a UK of Britain and France would have applied sufficient pressure of the stagnant, virtually bankrupt backwater of Fifties Ireland to rejoin the fold.

Certainly had it proved a successful union, I suspect that there would have been moves, possibly even a viable Unionist party in the Republic, agitating for union with Britain and France.

It didn't happen though, and probably couldn't have happened, despite Mollet's flirtation. And we can say 'Vive la difference!' to that. But it poses an intriguing counter history for the latter half of the twentieth century.

Would a Western European UK superpower have suppressed the creation of an EU? Would they have created rival client states in Western Europe to stifle the spread of the Eastern Bloc? Would they have retained their empires, as France largely has done and Britain has not?

Most interestingly, would we now be living in a UK dominated world, with America merely an affluent backwater, had this union come about?

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1 comment:

Tim said...

Le Royaume Uni de France et Angleterre, incroyable? Maybe not so crazy and certainly not the first time in the 20th century a French leader suggested a Union, De Gaulle also wanted to join up with the UK to beat the Jormans. Looking at it through the eyes of today it seems like a history lecturers crazy class assignment more than a realistic political solution and goes in the big book of What Ifs?