Will the Foreign Office try to stop Corbyn implementing the Labour manifesto?

In February 1974 the Permanent Under Secretary’s Planning Committee of the Foreign Office approved papers for the incoming Labour government, consisting of 42 departmental papers plus an overview of “Britain in an altered world: The outlook for Foreign Policy”. A key aspect of these papers was to argue against the new government implementing its manifesto commitments.

FCO paper, ‘Britain in an altered world: The outlook for foreign policy’, 26 February 74

“British foreign policy is largely shaped by the need to maintain British independence, prosperity and security in a world in which none of these objectives can be achieved by British efforts alone, least of all during a period when the British economy is under severe strain. As and when the British economic position improves, it may become possible to exert a more positive and independent influence in world affairs and to promote certain developments on their merits rather than in response to immediate national needs… The disappearance of cheap oil, for instance, has transformed the world in which British foreign policy has to operate”. In 1972 industrial countries had a trading surplus of $10bn, in 1974 likely to be deficit of $48bn and oil producers a surplus of $69bn. This is referred to as a “major shift in the economic balance of power…”

“In the next few years the United States will become even more important as our principal partner…only American leadership…can promote effective international cooperation in the management of the world’s economic and financial problems… The maintenance of constructive American leadership in all fields thus constitutes a primary British objective”. “Partly because of Britain’s colonial past, which has often put us on the defensive, and partly because of the bloc voting system that now prevails, the United Nations have [sic] hitherto proved less of an asset to British foreign policy than other international groupings… Britain has an interest in the economic and social development of the less developed countries for the contribution it [sic] makes to the expansion of world trade, the preservation of political stability and the reduction of international tension”.

Paper no.8, “European Defence Cooperation”.

Notes the Labour manifesto commitment of “the ultimate objective of the movement towards a more satisfactory relationship in Europe must be the mutual and concurrent phasing-out of NATO and the Warsaw Pact”. FCO comments that “The eventual phasing-out of NATO and the Warsaw Pact is unlikely to become agreed NATO policy in the foreseeable future. In the meantime, it seems prudent to avoid any suggestion that our security could be protected in a pan-European system of the kind advocated by the Russians, rather than through arrangements which bind the Americans to the defence of Western Europe”.

Paper no 9, “NATO problems, including burden sharing”.

Notes the Labour NEC’s commitment to expel Greece and suspend Portugal from NATO. FCO comments that “any attempt to secure the expulsion of Greece or the ‘suspension’ of Portugal from the Alliance would invoke a very hostile US reaction, and would probably be opposed with varying degrees of emphasis by the majority of the Alliance. The North Atlantic treaty contains no provision for the expulsion or suspension of signatories. It is possible that Greece and/or Portugal could be forced to withdraw by a sustained campaign of criticism. But this would almost certainly lead to a major crisis within the Alliance, and could produce a major review of the US attitudes there”.

Paper no.25, “Chile”.

The junta “has imposed stern measures to ensure law and order. All political activity has been suspended. The parties which made up President Allende’s socialist coalition have been banned and their leaders detained. It is unlikely that Chile will return to parliamentary democracy for several years… British economic interests are considerable: (i) third largest supplier of copper (11% of UK imports); (ii) defence sales. The Chilean navy are by tradition equipped with British vessels. Current orders, which were contracted with the Frei and Allende governments are worth £70 million, cover the construction of two frigates (Yarrow), two submarines (Scotts) and the refitting of a destroyer (Swan Hunter).(iii) UK exports in 1973 were £22 million (6.2% of the market). Chile is one of the better markets in Latin America and when the country becomes creditworthy again, Britain might gain several major contracts… The aims hitherto have been: (a) to improve our trade and other earnings by maintaining our traditional good relations with the Chileans and our long established connection with the Chilean navy. (b) to encourage the Chilean regime in the direction of a more human style of government… The abandonment of normal relations could however do damage to our trade, especially to future shipbuilding orders for the Chilean navy”.

Paper No,30. “Rhodesia”.

The manifesto calls for “support for the liberation movements of Southern Africa”. FCO comments that: “In considering support for the Rhodesian movements Ministers would no doubt wish to take account of Britain’s own constitutional responsibility for Rhodesia and the implications of such support for general policy towards the Rhodesian question… There might also be implications in the Irish context”.

Paper no.31, “Problems relating to Southern Africa”

The UK abstained on the 1966 UN General Assembly resolution calling to terminate South Africa’s mandate over Namibia and to vest responsibility in the UN “because of doubts about the legal capacity of the Assembly to take this step”. The UK was “unable for legal reasons” to accept the 1971 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice that South Africa’s presence in Namibia was illegal. Labour’s manifesto calls for support to liberation movements and “a disengagement from Britain’s unhealthy involvement with apartheid”. FCO comments that “it has been bipartisan policy for some time to avoid ‘involvement in apartheid’ in the sense of attitudes and actions which might be interpreted as implying support for or condonation of apartheid. If the new government wanted to go further to demonstrate their disapproval of South African policies, the following measures are listed in ascending order of their likely impact on British interests, particularly commercial interests.” The paper raises 13 possible policies, beginning with general curtailment of inter-governmental contacts to support to UN sanctions. The effect of sanctions on the UK “could be direct and immediate and the commercial damage could be very great: British exports to South Africa in 1973 were £374m”.

Paper no.35, “Economic relations with the third world”

In 1972 23% of UK exports were to the third world. “The EEC members favour international commodity agreements as a means of stabilising prices at a level fair to consumers and remunerative to producers. But concerted attempts to raise prices whether by restricting supplies, forming cartels or other arbitrary means, represent a serious danger to our trading position”.

Paper No.42, “Overseas Aid”

The UN adopted in October 1970 the 0.7% of GDP target to be reached by the mid-1970s. Currently, UK aid is at 4.0%. “Britain has not so far accepted the need for that target. The main advantage in accepting a target for official aid, with or without a specific date for its achievement, would be that it would bring to an end criticism of HMG internationally and from a growing section of parliamentary and public opinion”. The Labour manifesto states that Labour will seek to implement the 0.7% target.


National Archives: FCO 49/507