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Vive la revolution sa majesté Elizabeth!
January 15, 2007 11:25 AM   Subscribe

1956. France is losing Algeria. It’s lost Indochina. Sure, it’s culturally very productive, with Nouvelle Vague cinema at its height and existential philosophy gaining ground in the world at large. But to the nation of Napoléon and to one that preferred to emphasise the Résistance in its more recent history, that wasn't enough. What to do? Why, propose political union with Britain, of course.
posted by Aidan Kehoe (53 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
The prime minister of the time, Guy Mollet, was an Anglophile, and as Spiegel puts it:
‘When the French prime minister, Monsieur Mollet was recently in London he raised with the prime minister the possibility of a union between the United Kingdom and France.’ The extraordinary suggestion was turned down, however, meaning that the prospect of a new Anglo-French country would remain an intriguing historial hypothesis.
Undaunted, Mollet brought up the subject again during Eden’s visit to Paris in the next few months, this time proposing that France join the Commonwealth, to rub shoulders and ruminate on how much it had in common with India, Australia and Pakistan.

Unfortunately for entertainment purposes of the rest of the world, Eden turned both proposals down, and the reaction of the French average Jacques and the man on the Clapham Omnibus was never to be heard. Part of me regrets this final amicable solution to the Hundred Years’ War never happening, and part of me is happier for both countries that it didn’t.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 11:28 AM on January 15, 2007


(And, imagine, if you will, the title of this thread as it appeared in preview:

Vive la révolution sa majesté Elizabeth!
and now how it appears at the head of this page. )
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 11:31 AM on January 15, 2007


Winston Churchill had proposed union with France during World War 2.
posted by plep at 11:32 AM on January 15, 2007


Damnit, beat me by two minutes.
posted by empath at 11:32 AM on January 15, 2007


I wonder if this would have had an impact on the Quebecois in Canada. I mean, they could hardly push for independence while France was pushing for dependence, could they?
posted by empath at 11:36 AM on January 15, 2007


See also, the Auld Alliance.
posted by the cuban at 11:37 AM on January 15, 2007


Wasn't Guy Mollet the one behind the EU formation, or didn't he have something to do with it? Treaty of Paris (1951)?? European Coal and Steel Community???
posted by j-urb at 11:44 AM on January 15, 2007


Er, France and the UK are both members of the EU now.
posted by delmoi at 11:45 AM on January 15, 2007


The revolution will NOT be minitel'd.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:52 AM on January 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


empath writes "I wonder if this would have had an impact on the Quebecois in Canada."

er, no. We're neither British subjects nor French citizens, nor were we at the time...
posted by clevershark at 11:53 AM on January 15, 2007


Syria and Egypt tried to do the same thing with the United Arab Republic, but it broke apart because Syria thought Egypt was throwing her weight around too much.

An equal union, especially from two distinct historically rich and proud cultures, just isn't possible. At best it would have looked like a mini-EU. Economic merger with nearly full autonomy for each country.
posted by trinarian at 12:04 PM on January 15, 2007


j-urb: You're probably thinking of Jean Monnet.
posted by stopgap at 12:10 PM on January 15, 2007


Churchill's proposal, as one might expect should one know the exact timing of his rise to P.M. [the day Germany swept into the Low Countries], came when the French Government was abandoning Paris and heading south. WSC's writing about this episode of the war in his 6-volume history was particulary poignant.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:18 PM on January 15, 2007


empath: though i was likely in the wrong about this story, it's about integrity. if you pulled out a great story or link by serendipity or research, take credit for it. If someone else did the work and you just copied and pasted, give credit where it's do. Some of my favorite sites (Political Theory Daily Review comes to mind) come from MeFi [via]'s
posted by trinarian at 12:24 PM on January 15, 2007


Nobody owns an interweb link. It's not like Drudge wrote the story. It was published by multiple news agencies simultaneously. Many of them are read by people who don't even read Drudge.

The point of a [via] isn't for attribution, it's as a courtesy to folks who may not be aware of a good source of news or interesting links.

I doubt there is anybody who reads metafilter who isn't aware of the drudge report, even if that is where he got the link.
posted by empath at 12:26 PM on January 15, 2007


via Drudge]

just because your ashamed of your source doesn't mean you shouldn't cite
posted by trinarian at 2:57 PM EST on January 15


Don't ya just love these know-it-alls who magically know everybody's sources. Aidan, just ignore this crap. This was a beautiful post, and citing sources is merely a form of courtesy, not required here on MeFi.
posted by caddis at 12:35 PM on January 15, 2007


trinarian, I didn’t link to my source because this is not a German-language site. If you want to demonstrate you’re the exception in this, have at it.

(And note the date the entry there was saved in case you think I’m putting that del.icio.us entry up for your benefit—if you’re curious about the exact minute, have a look at the source of this RSS feed.)
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 12:35 PM on January 15, 2007


This really is quite shocking by the way. I wonder if after being absorbed into the UK the French would have had to give up their language? Not bloddy likely.
posted by caddis at 12:37 PM on January 15, 2007


trinarian - 19 posts, 6 with attribution - put your money where your mouth is. By the way, with most of those being Drudge, are you employed by Drudge? Is that why this irks you?
posted by caddis at 12:42 PM on January 15, 2007


oooooohhhhh.
posted by R. Mutt at 12:43 PM on January 15, 2007


Spend a moment, if you will, envisaging what the French state might have looked like once Margaret Thatcher got through with it. Or vice-versa. (think "Oui, Premier ministre.")
posted by Urban Hermit at 12:44 PM on January 15, 2007


Aidan Kehoe: "Sure, it’s culturally very productive, with Nouvelle Vague cinema at its height and existential philosophy gaining ground in the world at large."

Just a little note: almost every one of the Nouvelle Vague directors and writers, from Andre Bazin to Jacques Rivette to Eric Rohmer to Francois Truffaut, was relatively conservative. True, Jean-Luc Godard spiralled into Maoism with Weekend (one of my favorite movies, politics notwithstanding), but he was in a vast minority in his left-wing communist sympathies. It's very hard, as tempting as it may be, to draw connections between that movement and French existentialism.

Also, Jack Kerouac supported the Vietnam War. The 60's are a very misunderstood decade.
posted by koeselitz at 12:44 PM on January 15, 2007


guys, i apologized 10 minutes after posting. my snark-o-meter was calibarated a little too loosely. it's over. let's get back to talking about the post. if you want a deeper discussion on the merits of sourcing, you can MeTa it [let's not] or email me.
posted by trinarian at 12:47 PM on January 15, 2007


koeselitz, yeah, I know, and 1956 was the first stirrings of Nouvelle Vague, not its height. Something I checked in detail after posting, of course. But hey, that meant I beat ewkpates on the draw, so wahey! :-)
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 12:57 PM on January 15, 2007


Aidan Kehoe: "koeselitz, yeah, I know, and 1956 was the first stirrings of Nouvelle Vague, not its height."

Well, and they were all right-wingers, and in favor of the various wars France was fighting, was my point. Although I wasn't calling you out, or trying to correct you; this is a fantastic post, and very interesting.
posted by koeselitz at 12:59 PM on January 15, 2007


Wow.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 1:03 PM on January 15, 2007


Clevershark: [We Canadians are not] British subjects

You're not? Queen Elizabeth is your head of state, right? Is that like how I'm apparently not a British subject, although I'm British, supposedly because of the 1948 British Nationality Act, but I still appear to have a Queen? (And no, republican friends, I don't get that either.)
posted by alasdair at 1:05 PM on January 15, 2007


alasdair, my understanding is that Canadians are Canadian subjects, of Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, as well as being Canadian citizens. And that UK citizens remain British subjects; one status does not override the other.

(Though UK nationality laws have not amazingly long ago been arbitrarily and unfairly fuсked around with, so there may be senseless limitations to what that means.)
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 1:21 PM on January 15, 2007


alasdair: You're not? Queen Elizabeth is your head of state, right?

Yes and no. QEII remains the Canadian monarch, but (if you can wrap your head around this constitutional hair-splitting) in a capacity that is now entirely independent from her role as British head-of-state. See here and here.

Short version: yes, the Queen is Canada's head-of-state. No, we are not British subjects.
posted by Urban Hermit at 1:21 PM on January 15, 2007


alasdair writes "Is that like how I'm apparently not a British subject, although I'm British, supposedly because of the 1948 British Nationality Act, but I still appear to have a Queen? (And no, republican friends, I don't get that either.)"

Language is enormously flexible. Doubly so when wielded by lawyers.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:23 PM on January 15, 2007


re: "we're not British subjects"

Sorry, but you're a Canadian citizen, and that makes you a British Subject. Like it or not, Canada didn't have a bloody revolutionary conflict and secede from the British Empire, so we still (technically) hail to the Queen of England.
posted by tehloki at 1:23 PM on January 15, 2007


Urban Hermit writes "No, we are not British subjects."

But you were in 1956.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:23 PM on January 15, 2007


tehloki writes "Sorry, but you're a Canadian citizen, and that makes you a British Subject. "

The question "who is a British Subject" is a complicated one. But they're certainly an endangered species, and Canadian Citizens are certainly not among them.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:27 PM on January 15, 2007


But you were in 1956.

In common parlance, perhaps, but not really.
posted by Urban Hermit at 1:34 PM on January 15, 2007


just because your ashamed of your source doesn't mean you shouldn't cite

Just because drudge links to something, doesn't mean no one else has. And I guarantee Drudge didn't do the original research on this, so why should he get any credit?
posted by delmoi at 1:41 PM on January 15, 2007


Urban Hermit writes "In common parlance, perhaps, but not really."

Huh. I'm not quite reading that article the same way as you are. Did the 1947 act change have any effect on the title "British Subject"? The way I'm reading it, it only added a new category of British Subject: the Canadian Citizen. (According to my reading) Canadian Citizens ceased being British Subjects in 1977, at which point they became Commonwealth Citizens.

Granted, these are all purely semantic distinctions, and as far as I can tell, a post-1977 Commonwealth Citizen is functionally equivalent to a 1947-1977 Canadian British Subject. I think it is the purely semantic, lawyerly nature of the distinction that I find so fascinating.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:42 PM on January 15, 2007


Citizens of Canada would be British Dependent Territories Citizens, not British subjects.
posted by delmoi at 1:44 PM on January 15, 2007


delmoi writes "Citizens of Canada would be British Dependent Territories Citizens, not British subjects."

Canada's not a Dependant Territory! In fact, there are no longer any British Dependant Territories. They've been called "British Overseas Territories" since 2002.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:48 PM on January 15, 2007


I think this entire conversation goes to demonstrate the following point: France dodged a bullet back in '56.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:49 PM on January 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


Thanks very much for the post, I knew nothing of this.
posted by Wolof at 1:57 PM on January 15, 2007


j-urb Wasn't Guy Mollet the one behind the EU formation, or didn't he have something to do with it? Treaty of Paris (1951)?? European Coal and Steel Community???

Actually, j-urb, that is correct. After Eden turned Mollet down and both nations were humbled in Suez, the French government turned towards Germany's Adenauer and the Treaty of Rome (whose 50th anniversary is to be celebrated this year), establishing the European Economic Community, was signed the very next year. Adenauer's words to Mollet: "Europe will be your revenge."

That much was known. Today's big news is just how far Mollet was ready to go in his association with the UK. Entering the Commonwealth under Her Gracious Majesty's headship? I don't think that would have gone down at all well at the Paris street (but then, this was before the resurgence of Gaullism and the Fifth Republic - and the governments of the Fourth Republic were a lot less chauvinistic than de Gaulle's).
posted by Skeptic at 2:05 PM on January 15, 2007


mr_roboto,

I think you are right as regards the use of the different terms in citizenship laws - both terms (British Subject and Canadian Citizen) were applied in the 1947-77 period. However, after 1949 Canadians lost the British citizenship which they had previously held:

Hence, from 1949 to 1982, a person born in London, England, would have been a British subject and Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, while someone born in Sydney, Australia, would have been a British subject and Citizen of Australia.

I was thinking more in terms of who had what constitutional authority over Canadian citizens at various times (rather than what those citizens were called). From my previous link:

After the passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, whereby each self-governing dominion of the British Empire was henceforth considered equal in status to all the others, with the Crown becoming one that is shared and operating independently in each realm rather than as a unitary British Crown under which all the dominions were subordinate, the monarchy thus ceased to be an exclusively British institution. Because of this Canadians, and others living in countries that became known as Commonwealth Realms, were known as subjects of the Crown. However in legal documents the term "British subject" continued to be used.
posted by Urban Hermit at 2:11 PM on January 15, 2007


[please take the [via] derail to metatalk if you need to continue it]
posted by jessamyn at 4:13 PM on January 15, 2007


Thanks for the post Aidan Kehoe. What an astonishing story about Guy Mollet. Incredible. As Prime Minister of France he was going to hand France over to Britain?!!! What was he thinking?

From Wikipedia: "Although he was a lifelong Marxist, he has a posthumous reputation as a right-wing machine politician who betrayed socialist ideals over Algeria and by supporting de Gaulle in 1958."

Dang, sounds bizarre.

The following paragraph in the Wikipedia essay on Mollet was darkly informative:

"Eden feared that Nasser intended to cut off oil supplies to Europe. In October 1956 Mollet, Eden and the Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, met in secret and agreed to make a joint attack on Egypt. The Israelis invaded Egypt, and British and French troops occupied the Suez Canal area. But the invasion met with unexpected opposition from the United States, and France and the United Kingdom were forced into a humiliating backdown. Eden resigned, but Mollet survived the crisis, despite fierce criticism from the left."

Greedy and complex stuff was going down in the late 50's between the Brits, French and the folk in the Middle East. My mind was recently blown watching The Mayfair Set on Google video.

I'm trying to imagine such a union between France and Britain, if the inconceivable had actually taken place. The fish and chips would taste better but would the French wear tweed?
posted by nickyskye at 4:19 PM on January 15, 2007


Churchill recalled his proposal - by then already in the past - for political union with France, in the "Finest hour" speech:

The House will have read the historic declaration in which, at the desire of many Frenchmen-and of our own hearts-we have proclaimed our willingness at the darkest hour in French history to conclude a union of common citizenship in this struggle. However matters may go in France or with the French Government, or other French Governments, we in this Island and in the British Empire will never lose our sense of comradeship with the French people.
posted by gdav at 5:04 PM on January 15, 2007


When I heard this first thing on Radio 4 I went and checked that it wasn't 1 April and time for another spaghetti tree style story.
posted by ceri richard at 5:05 PM on January 15, 2007


Link to the original document.

What the document proposes is 'a "common citizenship" arrangement on the Irish basis' -- i.e. modelled on the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which established the Irish Free State. This would not have required France to surrender political autonomy to Britain. Eden (whose grasp of reality was never very strong) seems to have been very keen on the idea, but was firmly overruled by his civil servants -- rightly, I think, as it is a very bizarre proposal and it is hard to see how it could possibly have succeeded.

(The Anglo-Irish Treaty did not require Irish MPs to swear allegiance to the British crown -- they had to swear to be 'faithful' to the monarch, but pledged 'allegiance' only to the Irish constitution. So there is some flexibility here, though one doubts whether it would have satisfied the French.)
posted by verstegan at 5:16 PM on January 15, 2007


we still (technically) hail to the Queen of England.

I thought we were an autonomous collective.

Anyhoos... very interesting, Aidan Kehoe, thanks!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:48 PM on January 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


He was quite fond of Israel also.

He was instrumental in supplying the new state with NUCLEAR WEAPONS TECHNOLOGY. and here, here, and here.

Supposedly quoted as saying that France owed Israel the bomb.
posted by pwedza at 7:52 PM on January 15, 2007


so, basically, britain and france weren't even at war and france still surrendered?

sounds about right
posted by pyramid termite at 9:35 PM on January 15, 2007


"so, basically, britain and france weren't even at war and france still surrendered?

sounds about right"

Not even close.

This is a secret and unrealized proposal by a Prime Minister (by no means not France as a whole) who was knee deep in the Algerian War and the Suez Crisis.
posted by pwedza at 10:38 PM on January 15, 2007


pwezda, don't fight the "france surrenders" monkeys, just let them flow over you like a warm, red tide. It's just like going to sleep, in a blender.
posted by tehloki at 10:45 PM on January 15, 2007


This was dealt with beautifully by Channel 4 News last night. You can watch it here.
posted by MrMustard at 11:00 PM on January 15, 2007


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