Monday, 15 January 2007

The United Kingdom … of Britain and France?

According to declassified documents which have just been dug out of the National Archives, Britain and France considered uniting in the 1950s. The French press are rather bemused about the stillborn “Union Franglaise”, which comes as something of a shock.

French Prime Minister at the time, Guy Mollet, suggested a union between the two states, as a solution to the political troubles in the middle east, both in Suez and in Israel, which threatened to pit the UK and France against each other. Anthony Eden refused the request, which would presumably have resulted in France becoming the fifth Home Country of the United Kingdom.

After the refusal, Mollet came back with a marginally more sensible request, asking for France to be admitted to the Commonwealth. That would have involved France accepting Her Majesty as their Queen – given the way France treated their last monarch, I’m sure she’d have been delighted by the idea. Having said that, it would have meant tens of thousands of Frogs crawling around my home city of Manchester during the 2002 Commonwealth Games, just when I was doing my French A-level – I wouldn’t have minded that at all!

Apparently Britain was quite keen to have France in the Commonwealth, and offered membership – but M. Mollet quietly changed his mind, the emergence of the EEC made the whole thing redundant anyway, and the entire affair was completely forgotten for over half a century.

The French nationalists are having a fit now, calling the idea of Anglo-French Union “preposterous”. I don’t really blame them. Whatever the unusual political circumstances of the time, I can’t imagine the UK and France, with their wildly different histories and cultures, holding together in a stable union. Things are complicated enough as it is between the Home Countries of the UK, even when we all speak the same language!

Still, there’s some precedent for the cross-Channel alliance – after all, our national anthem, God Save the Queen, is supposed to have been written for French King Louis XIV, after he recovered from an extremely unpleasant thing called an anal fistula. The song made such an impression that it was adopted as the French national anthem, until it was brought over the Channel by the House of Hannover. We’ve been singing it for 260 years, blissfully unaware that it’s really a song about the King of France’s bottom.

Unfortunately, this story is full of historical inconsistencies, and probably complete nonsense. Rather like the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Northern Ireland and France!


Paul Walter said...

What a fascinating history to our national anthem! Thanks for adding a link to my blog. This Franglais union thing was also proposed by Chruchill to DeGaulle in June 1940.

Anonymous said...

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oh and the blog's not bad, by the way