June 12, 1945
I run great risks, I am sure, in asking the indulgence of the House to make a statement, but this statement is on a question which, so far as I know, has nothing to do with controversial policy. Yet it is important that it should be answered in a way which will bring it to notice abroad in a manner which is desirable. This statement is made in answer to Question 49, in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and Haddington (Captain McEwen),
"To ask the Prime Minister if he will now make a statement on the negotiations which took place in 1940 between His Majesty's Government and the Vichy Government."
I think that it would be useful for me to give the House a brief account of the facts, in order to correct any misunderstandings which may have been caused by the very inaccurate reports which have been published on this subject. After the withdrawal of the French Ambassador from London in 1940, His Majesty's Government sought to maintain contact with Marshal Pétain and his Ministers through less direct channels, in the hope of encouraging them to keep up a maximum of passive resistance to the enemy. To this end a series of messages were exchanged with the Vichy Administration during the autumn of 1940, through the British and French representatives at a neutral capital.
The object of the exchanges was to obtain assurances from Vichy that they would not surrender the French Fleet to the Germans, nor allow the Germans to obtain control of French overseas territory, nor themselves attack the French Colonies which had rallied to General de Gaulle. We explained that, if such assurances were forthcoming, we should be prepared to negotiate a modus vivendi whereby limited trade would be permitted through the blockade between Metropolitan France and the African territories under Vichy control. In the event nothing came of these proposals. The replies to our approaches were unsatisfactory, and it soon became clear that Vichy was too much under German duress to be able to give adequate assurances on the points in question, or to carry them out if given.
In October, 1940, an emissary from Vichy, who represented himself as acting on the personal instructions of Marshal Pétain, got in touch with the British authorities, and was brought to London, where he saw me and the then Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax. This emissary did not, however, come with any specific mission, and the object of his visit seems primarily to have been to gauge the state of opinion in this country and the prospects of our continued resistance to the enemy. He brought with him no proposals for an agreement, and no agreement was in fact ever concluded with the Vichy Administration, either through this emissary or through any other channel. This reply which I have made has a reference to proceedings which are taking place in France against certain individuals.