Friday 15 April 2016

Did Nick Robinson re-write history?

After a tip-off from News-watch's David Keighley, I've begun comparing Nick Robinson's Europe: Them or Us with the 1996 BBC series it drew upon for its treasure trove of archive material - The Poisoned Chalice.

I'm only five or so minutes into the 1996 series (with about 195 minutes to go), but I've already been brought up short....

Nick Robinson's programme itself must have brought many people up short with this early passage, suggesting that Winston Churchill was the father of a united Europe and that the Great British Bulldog became its father in the early days of World World Two:
Nick Robinson (presenter): This wonderful treasure trove of interviews with the key decision-makers filmed 20 years ago, many of whom of course are no longer with us, gives us a real insight into the decision that we now face. 
There's one interview we haven't got, it's with the man who in many ways was the father of a united Europe. No, he wasn't a Frenchman, he wasn't a German, he wasn't a Belgian, he was, in fact, the British Bulldog himself, Winston Churchill. 
In the desperate days of June 1940, Britain's new wartime leader's first instinct was to go for full political union, quite unthinkable today. Churchill's plan, in a last-ditch effort to stop France falling to the Nazis, was that Britain and France would become a single country, an indissoluble union with one war cabinet running defence and the economy on both sides of the Channel. 
The British Cabinet backed it, but with one prophetic exception, they simply couldn't stomach the idea of a single currency. Days later France fell, and with it, at that stage, the idea of political union. 
So, it was "Churchill's plan", according to Nick, for "an indissoluble union" with France. Please bear that in mind and then compare what Nick said with what was said on the 1996 BBC programme (on which this 2016 programme drew so heavily):  
Michael Elliott (presenter): There was a time, not so long ago, when Britain welcomed the idea of European union. In June 1940 London was bracing itself for the fall of France to the Nazis. General Charles de Gaulle came to London to put an astonishing rescue plan to Winston Churchill: Britain and France should unite as a single nation. 
Robert Makins (Foreign Office, 1940): When he arrived he was taken straight into the cabinet room and, of course, we we all agog to know what it was all about, and we were afterwards informed that he had come over with a proposal that there should be a union between France and Britain. with common citizenship. 
Michael Elliott: The scheme had been dreamed up by Jean Monnet, a civil servant who would later become the Father of the European Community. 
Jean Monnet (reading from his draft declaration): The government of the United Kingdom and the French Republic make this declaration of indissoluble union. Every citizen of France will enjoy immediately citizenship of Great Britain. Every British subject will become a citizen of France. 
Michael Elliott: Monnet's draft was agreed in a hurry by Churchill and the war cabinet, with one prophetic proviso. They couldn't stomach his proposal for a single currency. In any case, it all came to naught. The French cabinet turned down Monnet's plan a few hours later.
According to the 1996 programme then, it wasn't Churchill's plan at all. It was Jean Monnet and Charles de Gaulle's plan, and Winston only accepted it "in a hurry". 

Two obvious questions arise from that: Why then did Nick Robinson present the Anglo-French 'indissoluble union' plan as being Churchill's when it wasn't? And why did he suggest Churchill ought to be considered the true father of Europe, rather than Monnet?

Those are serious questions I think. I'll keep looking into this, and then see if I can get them answered.


  1. Busted! On the back of this, the viewer was expected to feel that the EU must not be such a bad idea if even Churchill wanted it. Once again Nick Robinson proves he is not an honest broker of news. I assume he'll have to address immigration in the next installment, and will have to be just as dishonest about it as he was in his immigration documentary.

    1. This was a surprise to me. It wasn't what I was looking for.

      I was actually checking out a suggestion that Nick Robinson had used the 1996 programme almost exactly as it had been edited back then but had taken out the 1996 commentary and superimposed his own, broadly similar commentary. And so far that's proving to have a good deal of truth to it.

      It's quite fascinating looking into this. It's not reflecting well on Nick Robinson though.

    2. I could tell this was all a rehash (I actually looked up a couple names I knew were long dead, just to be sure), but didn't know the original context. Turns out it did need some gentle framing from Nick.

      I might send a link to my old B-BBC post on that immigration propaganda piece to Keighley, for evidence Robinson has form.

    3. Robinson works for the BiasedBC. Of course he can't be trusted. His lips move.

  2. Well done Craig. Clear bias identified.

    I can hardly think that Nick Robinson, Chairman of the Oxford Conservatives back in the 1980s was neutral on the EU. One gets the impression he was probably on the left wing of the party - a Ken Clarke type. Perhaps someone can enlighten us.

    1. Having done a little research I turned up this:

      "The FCS was successfully spun against by one of its 'wet targets' - a young Nick Robinson who went on to report on today's political spinners."

      So it does appear that Nick Robinson was on the left wing i.e. "wet" side of the Tory Party at the time which means he would almost definitely have been extremely pro-EU as were nearly all "wets".

      Robinson is posing as a neutral observer but the reality is very probably that he is a Rabid Remainer! He's just not telling us.

  3. Here is Robinson's own blog post about his little documentary.

    Robinson introduces his claim that Churchill started it all.

    The ambiguity in our attitudes began with and was embodied in the father of the idea of a United Europe. He was not a Frenchman or a Belgian or a German but the man who would go on to become the globally recognised and revered symbol of British exceptionalism - Winston Churchill.

    When he goes on to say that Churchill "introduced" the idea of the Britain/France union as leader, I suppose there's a modicum of BBC 'accuracy' there, as Churchill was the leader and did introduce it from the British side. Not exaclty the same thing as saying he invented it, so maybe Robinson can dodge this one. He does in fact qualify this by saying that it was after The War that Churchill expanded upon the Britian/France union to argue for a larger European union.

    But further down he says:

    Of course my series - “Europe - Them or Us” - cannot present a single agreed historical truth.

    Except of course that's what he's actually claiming to do here.

  4. In his 1946 speech in which he advocates 'a kind of United States of Europe', Churchill credit Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, The Pan-European Union and former French Prime Minister Aristide Briand with pushing the idea forward many years before the war.

    Much work, Ladies and Gentlemen, has been done upon this task by the exertions of the Pan-European Union which owes so much to Count Coudenhove-Kalergi and which commanded the services of the famous French patriot and statesman Aristide Briand.

    There are two lines in the speech that indicate Churchill did not see Britain as part of a USE.

    We British have our own Commonwealth of Nations. These do not weaken, on the contrary they strengthen, the world organization. They are in fact its main support. And why should there not be a European group which could give a sense of enlarged patriotism and common citizenship to the distracted peoples of this turbulent and mighty continent?

    Great Britain, the British Commonwealth of Nations, mighty America and I trust Soviet Russia-for then indeed all would be well-must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe and must champion its right to live and shine.

    Which is probably why Robinson has to spin a wartime French offer as Churchill 'father of a United Europe'.

  5. I think, to be honest, we rather downplay Churchill in the UK. Really, he is far removed from your average Brit (who might be better represented by say Clem Atlee or Stanley Baldwin to take other PMs from that age). Churchill was something approaching a sort of Greek demi-god - such a range of talents, attributes, interests and multifarious powers of expression. And he was also founder of the Islamophobic Union, long before the European Union,I believe...

    "How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property – either as a child, a wife, or a concubine – must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the faith: all know how to die but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome."

    He couldn't have expressed himself more clearly could he?


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