By Paul Goodman
The Prime Minister insisted that the defence treaty between Britain and France "is is not, as some have suggested, about weakening or pooling British or French sovereignty". But Jenkin warned that "There is a long term record of duplicity on the French part when it comes to dealing with their allies...The UK has permanent interests but not permanent friends...France has never and is never likely to share strategic interests with the UK."
I sort of see what Jenkin is getting at, but "never shared strategic interests" struck me as a bit strong, and I went to my bookshelves to hunt down a precedent for the sharing of such interests, and the pooling of French and British sovereignty besides. I found it on page 619 of Roy Jenkins's rollicking biography of Winston Churchill, which relates that -
"At a luncheon on 15 June  the idea of amalgamating the British and French states in an indissoluble union had first effectively surfaced. Among those present were: Halifax, Corbin (French Ambassador) and Sir Robert Vansittart. In the next twenty-four hours it gathered momentum out of desparation. The matter came before the War Cabinet at a 3.00 p.m meeting on Sunday, 16 June. The day and timing of the meeting were themselves indicative of how critical the circumstances were seen to be. Churchill was surprised at the gust of wind that swept along such figures as Chamberlain and Attlee, who were both normally good at pricking hot-air ballons. The minutes recorded: "The Prime Mibister said that his first instinct had been against the idea, but in this grave crisis we must not let ourselves be accused of a lack of imagination. Some dramatic announcement was clearly necessary to keep the French going." So, with remarkably little detailed consideration, the offer was evolved: common citizenship, a single united War Cabinet, amalgamated armed forces, and maybe, although nothing was specifically said about this, a single polyglot parliament.
It was an amazing confection. In retrospect it is difficult to decide which was the more staggering: the presumption of the view that the disparate and complex mechanisms of the British and French states could be successfully put together by a document of barely 300 words; or the utterely heterogeneous nature of those who assisted at its hasty creation. Apart from Churchill himself, with his half reluctantly given but decisive final seal of approval, these were Halifax, Vansittart and on the French side Corbin, the very experienced ambassador, Rene Pleven, several times to be Prime Minister in the early 1950s, Jean Monnet, the founding father of the European Community, and Charles de Gaulle, who was subsequently, both in war and peace, to be the symbol and sword of unnegotiable French sovereignty. De Gaulle indeed was responsible for telephoning the proposal through to Reynaud as soon as it had been agreed on the Sunday afternoon, and then for carrying the written document with him when he returned to Bordeaux that evening. Churchill's role at Concarneau was to have been that of reinforcing it with his eloquence and argument, and the purpose of taking with him Attlee and Sinclair was to underpin the seriousness of the offer by showing that it came from all parties in Britain."
Reynaud failed to carry the scheme through his Cabinet. He resigned, and was replaced by Petain, "who proceeded to form a government of surrender" -
"That was the reason Churchill had been left sulking in his train seat at Waterloo. There was no-one left in office in France who wanted to confer with him. The grand and rash scheme appeared counter-productive. In reality it was just irrelevant. It was swept quickly into the dustbin of history."
Not much of a precendent, I admit (before Jenkin or anyone else compels me to concede the point). And conducted in somewhat unusual circumstances. But there it is.
Final observation: Jenkins doesn't relate whether or not the King was consulted.