The Martin Pollins Blog

History, economics, business, politics…and Sussex

Map Description automatically generated

An Unlikely Union: Britain and France as One Country
The decision in 2016 by Britain to leave the European Union, even at the most critical period since its existence, could bring unpredictable and far-reaching consequences – both for Britain and the European Union itself.

After the Munich crisis of 1938, Britain had to face the danger of another European war, with the inevitable loss of the Empire. It was at this point that Britain (and France) began to favour the idea of the federalist principle in Anglo-French relations. In June 1940, there was another turning point in British history. During the afternoon of 16th June 1940, just a few hours before the French Government capitulated to Nazi Germany, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, on behalf of the British Government, made an offer of “indissoluble union.” When a sceptical Churchill put forward to the British Cabinet the text of the declaration drafted by Jean Monnet[1], Sir Arthur Salter[2], and Robert Vansittart[3], he was surprised at the amount of support it received. The British Cabinet adopted the document with some minor amendments, and Charles de Gaulle, who saw it as a means of keeping France in the war, telephoned Paul Reynaud[4] with the proposal for an “indissoluble union” with “joint organs of defence, foreign, financial and economic policies,” common citizenship and a single War Cabinet.

The proposal, however, never reached the table of the French Government. The spirit of capitulation, embodied in Weygand[5] and Pétain[6], prevailed as France submitted herself to Germany for the second time in seventy years.[7]

Map Description automatically generated
Map of the Franco-British Union as proposed in 1940.
Attribution: SenseiAC, CC BY-SA 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons. File URL:

The Franco-British Union almost came into being in 1940 when, with France on the verge of defeat, the French and British governments jointly discussed the concept of merging both countries into one and having the French government continue the war from overseas. Ultimately, this was not to be, as the French government was divided on the issue (seeing the union as little more than an underhanded British attempt to steal France’s colonies and make Paris subordinate to London). Eventually, the French Cabinet resigned, and Marshal Philippe Petain came to power. He concluded a ceasefire and armistice with Germany, forming Vichy France, with the United Kingdom being left to fight off Germany alone.[8]

History shows an uneasy relationship[9]
The idea of a unified Britain and France wasn’t something new. Unification came close in 1422, during the height of the Hundred Year’s War. A young King Henry VI was crowned King Henry II of France, a triumph for Britain. Despite this, the King held little influence across all of France. Soon, the French would win this war and drive Britain out.[10]

Before the Norman Conquest of 1066, there were no armed conflicts between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of France. France and England were subject to repeated Viking invasions, and their foreign preoccupations were primarily directed toward Scandinavia.[11]

Although a union between Britain and France was proposed during certain crises of the 20th century, it has some historical precedents. Ties between France and England became intimate after the 1066 Norman Conquest, in which the Duke of Normandy, an important French fief, became King of England while also owing feudal ties to the French crown. The relationship was never stable, and it only endured as long as the French crown was weak.

From 1066 to 1214, the King of England held extensive fiefs in northern France, adding to Normandy the counties of Maine, Anjou, and Touraine, and the Duchy of Brittany. After 1154, the King of England was also Duke of Aquitaine (or Guienne), together with Poitou, Gascony, and other southern French fiefs dependent upon Aquitaine. Together with the northern territories, this meant that the King of England controlled more than half of France – the so-called Angevin Empire – though still nominally as the King of France’s vassal. The centre of gravity of this composite realm was generally south of the English channel; four of the first seven kings after the Norman Conquest were French-born, and all were native speakers of French. For centuries thereafter, the royalty and nobility of England were educated in French as well as English. In certain respects, England became an outlying province of France; English law took the strong impress of local French law, and there was an influx of French words into the English language.

This anomalous situation came to an end with the Battle of Bouvines in 1214, when King Philip II of France deposed King John of England from his northern French fiefs; in the chaos that followed, the heir to the throne of France, later Louis VIII, was offered the throne of England by rebellious English barons from 1216 to 1217 and travelled there to take it. He was proclaimed King of England in St. Paul’s Cathedral, where many nobles, including King Alexander II of Scotland, paid him homage. He captured Winchester and soon controlled over half the kingdom, but after the death of King John, his support dwindled, and he was forced to make peace, renouncing his claim to the throne. England was ultimately able to retain a reduced Guienne as a French fief, which was retained and enlarged when war between the two kingdoms resumed in 1337.

From 1340 to 1360, and from 1369 onwards, the King of England assumed the title of “King of France”, but although England was generally successful in its war with France, no attempt was made to make the title a reality during that time.

The situation changed with King Henry V of England‘s invasion of France in 1415. By 1420, England controlled northern France (including the capital) for the first time in 200 years. King Charles VI of France was forced to disinherit his own son, the Dauphin Charles, in favour of Henry V. As Henry predeceased the French King by a few months, his son Henry VI was proclaimed King of England and France from 1422 by the English and their allies, but the Dauphin retained control over parts of central and southern France and claimed the crown for himself. From 1429 the Dauphin’s party, including Joan of Arc, counterattacked and succeeded in crowning him as King.

Fighting between England and France continued for more than twenty years after, but by 1453 the English were expelled from all of France except Calais, which was lost in 1558. England also briefly held the town of Dunkirk in 1658–1662. The kings of England and their successor kings of Great Britain, purely as a habitual expression and with no associated political claim, continued to use the title “king of France” until 1801; the heads of the House of Stuart, out of power since 1688, used the title until their extinction in 1807.

Picture Credit: Winston Churchill et Charles de Gaulle” by OliBac is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

In April 1904, the United Kingdom and the Third French Republic signed a series of agreements known as the Entente Cordiale, which marked the end of centuries of intermittent conflict between the two powers and the start of a period of peaceful co-existence. Although French historian Fernand Braudel (1902–1985) described England and France as a single unit, nationalist political leaders from both sides were uncomfortable with the idea of such a merging.

In December 1939, Jean Monnet of the French Economic Mission in London became the head of the Anglo-French Co-ordinating Committee, which coordinated joint planning of the two countries’ wartime economies. The Monnet hoped for a post-war United States of Europe and saw an Anglo-French political union as a step toward his goal.[12] He discussed the idea with Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill’s assistant Desmond Morton, and other British officials.[13]

Nazi Germany’s Invasion of France[14]
On 14th June 1940, just four days after Germany began a relentless Blitzkrieg assault on France, enemy troops entered Paris. Two days later, on 16th June 1940, with Nazi Germany on the brink of crushing France, British prime minister Winston Churchill and French undersecretary of defence Charles de Gaulle came to an incredible and hitherto unthinkable agreement: that Britain and France unite as a single country called the “Franco-British Union.” It was only two weeks after British and French troops were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk.

The agreement was made out of desperation – even crisis – and within a month, French resistance had largely disappeared. [15]

In June 1940, French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud’s government faced imminent defeat in the Battle of France. In March, they and the British had agreed that neither country would seek a separate peace with Nazi Germany. The French Cabinet voted on 15th June 1940 to ask Germany for the terms of an armistice. Reynaud, who wished to continue the war from North Africa, was forced to submit the proposal to Churchill’s War Cabinet. He claimed that he would have to resign if the British were to reject their proposal.[16]

The British opposed a French surrender, particularly the possible loss of the French Navy to the Germans, and so sought to keep Reynaud in office. On 14th June 1940, British diplomat Robert Vansittart and Morton wrote with Monnet and his deputy René Pleven a draft “Franco-British Union” proposal. They hoped that such a union would help Reynaud persuade his Cabinet to continue the war from North Africa, but Churchill was sceptical when on 15th June 1940, the British War Cabinet discussed the proposal and a similar one from Secretary of State for India Leo Amery. On the morning of 16th June 1940, the British War Cabinet agreed to the French armistice request on the condition that the French fleet sail to British harbours. This disappointed Reynaud, who had hoped to use a British rejection to persuade his Cabinet to continue to fight.[17]

Reynaud supporter Charles de Gaulle had arrived in London earlier that day, however, and Monnet told him about the proposed Union[18]. De Gaulle convinced Churchill over lunch at the Carlton Club that “some dramatic move was essential to give Reynaud the support he needed to keep his Government in the war”.[19] The Frenchman then called Reynaud and told him that the British prime minister proposed a union between their countries, an idea which Reynaud immediately supported. De Gaulle, Monnet, Vansittart, and Pleven quickly agreed to a document proclaiming joint citizenship, foreign tradecurrency, war cabinet, and military command. Churchill withdrew the armistice approval, and at 3 pm, the War Cabinet met again to consider the union document. Despite the radical nature of the proposal, Churchill and the ministers recognised the need for a dramatic act to encourage the French and reinforce Reynaud’s support within his Cabinet before it met again at 5 pm.[20]

With defeatism running rife in France, a dramatic step such as a union with Britain was needed to encourage the country to keep fighting from its colonies and to stop the French fleet from falling into German hands. British and French civil servants drafted a proposal for a “Declaration on Franco-British Union”– effectively to create one country.

The 1940 Declaration of Union document, as recorded in Hansard[21], is as follows:

“At this most fateful moment in the history of the modern world the Governments of the United Kingdom and the French Republic make this declaration of indissoluble union and unyielding resolution in their common defence of justice and freedom, against subjection to a system which reduces mankind to a life of robots and slaves.

“The two Governments declare that France and Great Britain shall no longer be two nations but one Franco-British Union. The constitution of the Union will provide for joint organs of defence, foreign, financial, and economic policies. Every citizen of France will enjoy immediately [sic] citizenship of Great Britain, every British subject will become a citizen of France.

“Both countries will share responsibility for the repair of the devastation of war, wherever it occurs in their territories, and the resources of both shall be equally, and as one, applied to that purpose.

“During the war, there shall be a single war Cabinet, and all the forces of Britain and France, whether on land, sea, or in the air, will be placed under its direction. It will govern from wherever it best can. The two Parliaments will be formally associated.

“The nations of the British Empire are already forming new armies. France will keep her available forces in the field, on the sea, and in the air.

“The Union appeals to the United States to fortify the economic resources of the Allies and to bring her powerful material aid to the common cause.

“The Union will concentrate its whole energy against the power of the enemy no matter where the battle may be. And thus, we shall conquer.”

Churchill’s private secretary said, “We had before us the bridge to a new world, the first elements of European or even World Federation.”[22]

Another attempt at a Union[23]
Newly uncovered documents shocked historians by revealing that in the 1950s, Britain and France discussed the possibility of uniting and Queen Elizabeth II becoming France’s head of state. In September 1956, the French prime minister Guy Mollet, a former English teacher and wartime resistance fighter, came to London to discuss the possibility of a union with his British counterpart, Anthony Eden. According to an investigation by BBC Radio 4’s Document programme, Eden turned down the idea but gave positive consideration to Mollet’s next suggestion – that France should be allowed to join the Commonwealth.

A government document, dated 28th September 1956, records that Eden recommended “immediate consideration” of France’s Commonwealth bid and Mollet “had not thought there need be difficulty over France accepting the headship of Her Majesty [Queen Elizabeth II]; [and] that the French would welcome a common citizenship arrangement on the Irish basis”. At the time of Mollet’s proposals, France had serious problems – an escalating Suez crisis and a bloody Algerian war. Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez canal was perceived as an act of war by Mollet, who was also infuriated by Nasser’s support of Algeria’s National Liberation Front. The French prime minister aimed to line up his international allies, turning to Britain, a staunch French ally during two world wars. The discussions between Mollet and Eden came to nothing, and a year later, France was one of the founding members of the Common Market, the forerunner of the European Union. Britain was not among the original members.

Anglo-French Wars[24]
To suggest a Union between Britain and France would seem hopelessly unlikely given the many previous wars between the two countries. Anglo-French Wars were a series of conflicts between England (and after 1707, Britain) and France, over the years, including:

Adolf Hitler in Paris

Picture Credit: Creative Commons.
Adolf Hitler in Paris by Marion Doss

File URL:

Sources and Further Reading

The Churchill Coalition War Cabinet: standing, from left to right, Sir Archibald Sinclair, Mr A V Alexander, Lord Cranborne, Herbert Morrison, Lord Moyne, Captain Margesson and Brendan Bracken. Seated, from left to right, Ernest Bevin, Lord Beaverbrook, Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill, Sir John Anderson, Arthur Greenwood and Sir Kingsley Wood [[The Churchill Coalition Government 11 May 1940 – 23 May 1945:.File:Churchill Coalition Government – 11 May 1940.jpg|Churchill Coalition Government – 11 May 1940]] Public Domain


  1. Jean Omer Marie Gabriel Monnet was a French entrepreneur, diplomat, financier, administrator, and political visionary. An influential supporter of European unity, he is considered one of the founding fathers of the European Union. Source:

  2. James Arthur Salter, 1st Baron Salter, GBE, KCB, PC was a British politician and academic, who played a minor, but important role in the foundations of pan-European government. Jean Monnet and Arthur Salter worked together to develop plans for the establishment of a ‘United States of Europe’, headed by an unelected technocrat government. Source:,_1st_Baron_Salter
  3. Robert Vansittart, 1st Baron Vansittart was known as Sir Robert Vansittart between 1929 and 1941, was a senior British diplomat in the period before and during the Second World War. Source:,_1st_Baron_Vansittart

  4. Paul Reynaud was a French politician and lawyer prominent in the interwar period, noted for his stances on economic liberalism and militant opposition to Germany. He opposed the Munich agreements of September 1938, when France and the United Kingdom gave way before Hitler’s proposals for the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. After the outbreak of World War II Reynaud became the penultimate Prime Minister of the Third Republic in March 1940. He was also vice-president of the Democratic Republican Alliance center-right party. Reynaud was Prime Minister during Germany’s defeat of France in May and June 1940; he persistently refused to support an armistice with Germany, as premier in June 1940, he unsuccessfully attempted to save France from German occupation in World War II, and resigned on 16 June 1940. Source:
  5. Maxime Weygand was Chief of Staff of the French Army, a French military commander in World War I and World War II. Born in Belgium, Weygand was raised in France and educated at the Saint-Cyr military academy in Paris. After graduating in 1887, he went on to become an instructor at the Cavalry School at Saumur. Source:
  6. Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Pétain, generally known as Philippe Pétain, Marshal Pétain and sometimes The Old Marshal, was a French general officer who attained the position of Marshal of France at the end of World War I, during which he became known as The Lion of Verdun. In 1939, he was appointed French ambassador to Spain and in May 1940, with France under attack from Germany, Pétain was appointed deputy prime minister. In June 1940, Pétain asked for an armistice with Germany, giving the Germans control over the north and west of France, including Paris. Source:

  7. Source: Extract from Book Description: June 1940, Great Britain and the First Attempt to Build a European Union, by Andrea Bosco, published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing, at

  8. Source:
  9. Source:
  10. Source:
  11. Source:
  12. According to Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert, the idea of a union between the two countries was initially proposed by René Pleven. Gilbert, Martin (1991). Churchill. Random House. Chapter 25.
  13. Source: Shlaim, Avi (July 1974). “Prelude to Downfall: The British Offer of Union to France, June 1940”. Journal of Contemporary History. 3. 9: 27–63. doi:10.1177/002200947400900302. JSTOR 260024
  14. Sources:, and
  15. Sourced from:
  16. Source: Shlaim, Avi (July 1974). “Prelude to Downfall: The British Offer of Union to France, June 1940”. Journal of Contemporary History. 3. 9: 27–63. doi:10.1177/002200947400900302. JSTOR 260024
  17. Ibid
  18. Source: Shlaim, Avi (July 1974). “Prelude to Downfall: The British Offer of Union to France, June 1940”. Journal of Contemporary History. 3. 9: 27–63. doi:10.1177/002200947400900302. JSTOR 260024
  19. Source: Gates, Eleanor M. (1981). End of the Affair: The Collapse of the Anglo-French Alliance, 1939–40. London: George Allen & Unwin. p. 230. ISBN 0-04-940063-0.
  20. Source: Shlaim, Avi (July 1974). “Prelude to Downfall: The British Offer of Union to France, June 1940”. Journal of Contemporary History. 3. 9: 27–63. doi:10.1177/002200947400900302. JSTOR 260024
  21. As recorded in Hansard:
  22. Sourced from:
  23. Reported in The Guardian, 16th January 2007, at:
  24. Source:


Leave a Reply

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: