January 2022 marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the British United Europe Movement. David Maxwell Fyfe’s invitation to join by Winston Churchill later in the year led directly to his notable work drafting the ECHR.
75 years ago, in January 1947 Winston Churchill and his son-in-law, Conservative ex-minister Duncan Sandys launched the British United Europe Movement. It was one the network of non-government organisations that sprung up at the end of World War II.
This was the statement of purpose when launching:
The anarchy of Europe has already brought about two world wars in our time. If allowed to continue, it must surely lead to an even more terrible catastrophe. The final elimination of war can be assured only by the eventual creation of a system of World Government. As a practical step towards this ultimate ideal, appropriate nations should be encouraged to group themselves together in larger units.
Groups of various kinds already exist, such as the Pan-American Union, the British Commonwealth and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Our continent, however, still remains in a chaotic condition. If Europe is to survive, it must unite. Its peoples must join together to secure their mutual peace and common prosperity and to preserve and enrich their heritage of civilization and freedom. The aim must be to unite all the peoples of Europe and give expression to their sense of being Europeans, while preserving their own traditions and identity.
Some countries may for the present feel unable to take action; but those that can should make a start. Others will join with them later. United Europe would have the status of a Regional Group under the Charter of the United Nations Organisation and would naturally seek the close friendship and co-operation of the Soviet Union and the United States of America.
It would be premature to define the precise constitutional relationship between the nations of a unified Europe. Unity can grow only from free consultation and practical experience of concerted action. Britain has special obligations and spiritual ties which link her with the other nations of the British Commonwealth. Nevertheless, Britain is part of Europe and must be prepared to make her full contribution to European unity. The responsibility falls upon individual citizens. The task is urgent. Before it is too late, let men of goodwill in all countries take counsel together that Europe may arise.
A little later that year, Churchill asked Nuremberg prosecutor Maxwell Fyfe to join the Movement, as he recalls in his autobiography, A Political Adventure.
One day in 1947 Winston called me across the smoking room of the House of Commons and asked me if I would join the committee of the United Europe Movement, of which he was chairman. I had always been anxious to do something positive after the part I had played in destroying Nazi ideology, and I accepted with enthusiasm. I wanted to do something about human rights.
Together they would attend the Congress of Europe in May 1948 at the Hague. During his defining speech there Churchill said:
The Movement for European Unity must be a positive force, deriving its strength from our sense of common spiritual values. It is a dynamic expression of democratic faith based upon moral conceptions and inspired by a sense of mission. In the centre of our movement stands the idea of a Charter of Human Rights, guarded by freedom and sustained by law.
During the next two and years Maxwell Fyfe championed and drafted this Charter which became the Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms In Europe. The Convention was signed in November 1950.
Join us as we countdown to the 75th anniversary of the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights at thehumansinthetelling.org.
David Maxwell Fyfe’s papers are held in the shadow of the Churchill collection at the Churchill Archives in Cambridge.
Read about Maxwell Fyfe’s personal account of his journey to Strasbourg in our blog which has excerpts from A Gleam in Alsace from his autobiography here.