Revive the Commonwealth Relations Office as an antidote to the EU

Revive the Commonwealth Relations Office as an antidote to the EU

The referendum in June two years ago was bound to bring out the worst in some people. David Cameron probably thought that with the government’s machine at his fingertips the vote would prove a walkover. If so, he was more foolish than even I thought. As the going became tougher, panic spread, the campaign style of the government and its allies became appalling – nine million pounds alone wasted on leaflets to every household, threats of punishment budgets and even the President of the United States dragged in to threaten the voters with what became labelled as ‘Project Fear.’

They were not the first government to try and browbeat the people into appeasement and surrender to a foreign power, nor the last. What all these governments have in common is contempt for civilised debate and democracy and, above all, contempt for the voters. Apostles of the Remain church accuse the Leavers of cheating, mostly over money, with repeated investigations and clearing over the same accusations. I regard this as simply a way of distracting the voters from the real questions while conveniently wasting the time of political opponents. Money has talked, nowhere more so than in the lawyers’ chambers and the courts. Many voters would like to know who is paying for all this time wasting through legal attrition and also why the Electoral Commission has allowed itself to be seen as being on behalf of the Remain campaign. They have not challenged the then Government’s campaign – which spent many millions at our expense and as they lost was squandered on saving their own political skin.

Our Parliament has proved itself shallow and inadequate, a real challenge beyond them. Most members of both chambers supported remaining in the European Union, including the Prime Minister, because that’s who the party officials selected over the last 45 years. After an interview with the Party Deputy Chairman, in those days Sir Michael Fraser, I was welcomed by the MPs on the selection board for the Conservative Party. That was in 1973. I made no secret that I was utterly against joining the Common Market. The man on the board from the Central Office sidled up to me afterwards and told me that his office would make sure the party never offered me a seat where I might win.

Back to the present and Mrs May’s transition deal is straight out of the FCO/Treasury joint scheming department manual – staying in the Customs Area until the next general election so that Labour take the blame for applying to rejoin the European Union on supplicant terms. Ministers who are thinking of resigning in protest should bear in mind that according to the media, the fast stream of the Civil Service – and no doubt the FCO – are running a betting book on your departure. That implies your departure is part of the plan. They don’t want to leave Auntie Brussels’ skirts. Deep down they know they’re not up to life in the fast lane so they feed the gullible Mrs May with threats of disaster once the umbilical cord is severed.

That’s why we have yet to hear anyone in either chamber of Parliament point out that even the European Union as recently as 2016 is no more: the European Union of 2018 has already significantly changed. Instead we suffer 1970s-era sermons on how any form of national advance and success is beyond the population of these islands. Some of us, who are older, heard all this nonsense 40 years ago – and admired the way Margaret Thatcher swept aside its high priests. These days the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish Nationalist benches are packed with MPs recruited for their worship of the great god Europa. Labour’s benches are mostly the rump of New Labour and it seems they would rather cheat the British voters than stand up for themselves in their own party. Instead they prefer to depend on the European Commission as their most fail-safe means of blocking the path to state control and the Marxism presently followed by Corbyn. Nonetheless, for a whole party to hide behind the skirts of unelected foreign officials is hardly cool Britannia.

They’re as bad as former diplomats preaching despair and surrender in the House of Lords. What drives these people? Why is all this so crucial for our foreign policy and defence forces? You need to know a little history. During the 1930s, the Foreign Office preached disarmament with appeasement of the dictators. Eventually this led to the Munich Agreement of 1938 between Hitler and Chamberlain. Fortunately, other people in Britain had woken up and the country started to rearm. The FO was still preaching appeasement when Poland was invaded in September 1939. There followed the phoney war until April 1940 when Norway and Denmark were invaded.

Chamberlain was forced to resign after the debate on the disaster in Norway. This took place on 10th May 1940, the day after Holland was invaded, the same day Belgium and France were invaded. Luxembourg allowed itself to provide the start-line. A month later the FO argued for a negotiated settlement while thanks to the Royal Navy and RAF, the BEF minus its equipment escaped from the port and sands of Dunkirk. Churchill, strengthened by the support of Attlee, Greenwood and Bevan, gave his answer in those famous words that began, ‘We shall fight…’ The following spring Hitler invaded Yugoslavia and Greece, then Russia. That December the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour and proceeded to grab Hong Kong, Indochina, Malaya and Singapore, the Dutch East Indies and countless Pacific islands.

The FO strategy had vanished in several puffs of smoke. The only embassies left in Europe were Lisbon, Madrid, Bern and Stockholm. The only one in the Far East was Chunking. The secret service lost its networks apart from Iberia and Latin America while being betrayed to Stalin by quite senior officers. Churchill’s solution to all this disaster was to take one of the cleverest people in the Labour Party, Hugh Dalton, and put him in charge of what became known as SOE, Special Operations Executive, with orders to set Europe ablaze. And they did – by building up intelligence gathering networks and armed resistance groups all over Europe and eventually the Far East as well.

After the war, the Foreign Office and Secret Service very quickly disbanded SOE which both regarded as a threat to their own influence. This short-sighted act of self-preservation by both organisations was a strategic blunder. SOE was probably the ideal force for all the clandestine wars that Britain would fight – from Malaya to Afghanistan and Syria. The next Foreign Office blunder was the Suez Operation in 1956. Eisenhower called a halt to Eden’s invasion with the French of the Suez Canal Zone. For the Foreign Office mandarins the European Union became a life support system just across the Channel. But what to do about that huge Commonwealth power base just across the courtyard in Whitehall? Hence the merger that cleared the way for the next massive strategic blunder – joining the Common Market. Now I fear they look desperate enough to preside over another historic wrong turn simply to survive as the controllers of Britain’s destiny. What is the alternative they fear so much that they would rather their fellow Britons became political, economic and military vassals of the German sun?

Had there still been a Commonwealth Relations Office in the early 1970s, opposition to joining the Common Market would have had a focal point in London. Forty-odd years ago those of us who foresaw disaster nonetheless accepted the result and did our best to make it work. Today the European Union blatantly meddles in our political life. The German sun wants all the European economies under its control. How dare the British yet again deny the sun its destiny? Yet only two years after British voters defied Project Fear, the health of the economy ridicules the high priests of Remain. We are like a ship that has sailed on the wrong compass bearing for nearly 50 years. Turn the ship onto the true bearing with the wind behind her and her speed picks up almost without effort. To make sure we stay on course it’s time we take the C out of FCO.

Much as I enjoyed working in foreign countries as well as the Commonwealth, reluctantly I have reached the conclusion that the Foreign Office is not interested in the Commonwealth, which it regarded as a threat to its influence. Let’s do what the mandarins dread: Let’s revive the Commonwealth Relations Office and merge the Department for International Development with its budget into this new CRO. As in the 1960s, serving diplomats should be allowed to volunteer for the new service or opt to stay in the Foreign Office. The old argument was that the CRO had to be gobbled up by the FO because otherwise we had two foreign policies. This was nonsense. The CRO was gobbled up partly because of a delusion that the Commonwealth depended on British political enthusiasm. There was an official assumption that the other countries weren’t interested in talking to each other and that Commonwealth would wither away. What utter nonsense. I would even go as far as racist nonsense. When I served in Jamaica, the chairman of the Jamaica Telephone Company told me that the highest volumes of phone calls were with Atlanta, Toronto and London. When the history of the last sixty years is written I think the robust health of the Commonwealth through millions of warm personal relationships will prove the Queen’s greatest victory.

Just imagine if the hundreds of billions we paid over nearly fifty years to support the wealthy countries of Europe instead had been spent on the poorer countries of the Commonwealth. Just imagine if our market had been open to finished food products – sugar, coffee and chocolate to name only three. At long last we have another chance to finish the job. Our defence forces should be strengthened as a matter of urgency to support this effort. The obvious core is the Five Eyes Intelligence family. Other than NATO we should have no formal ties with the European Union’s new defence structure. We should discourage any move that duplicates or weakens NATO. My own hunch is that the German sun wants to make a pact with Russia and thereby distance the European Union from NATO, which they regard as an Anglo-Saxon club. Our effort should focus on rebuilding our defence industries, shipbuilding, aircraft, space and advanced technology.