How MI6 pushed Britain to join EuropePaul Lashmar and James Oliver, Sunday Telegraph, 27 April 1997, page 10
A secretly-funded Foreign Office unit used public money to mount a covert propaganda operation aimed at ensuring Britain joined the European Community. Paul Lashmar and James Oliver investigate
IN LATE 1972, Alistair McAlpine, later Lord McAlpine, was recruited as treasurer for a pro-European lobby organisation called the European League for Economic Co-operation. It was only much later that he discovered the reason for his appointment. A “branch of the security services, called, I believe, something like the IDA”, had been financing breakfasts and lunches for this and other bodies, he later wrote.
Now, the full extent of the involvement by the MI6-linked Information Research Department of the Foreign Office in supporting Britain's joining the European Economic Community can be revealed.
For nearly two years, IRD had been funding invitation-only meetings between senior media figures and pro-European politicians. diplomats and businessmen. These were regular, expensive, and well-attended breakfasts at the Connaught Hotel.
Then, McAlpine said last week, Sir William Armstrong, at that time head of the Civil Service, found out about the events. He went to the Prime Minister, Edward Heath, and the IRD funding ceased. As a result ELEC had taken over running the breakfast meetings and McAlpine, then as now a fund-raiser extraordinaire, was brought in.
British and American intelligence services had traditionally supported Britain's entry into the European Economic Community us a bulwark against the Communist Eastern bloc. The CIA funded the European Movement, the most prominent extra-governmental group, seeking to influence public opinion for a European Community. Between 1949 and 1953, it was subsidised by the CIA to the tune of £330,000. In June 1970 Edward Heath's Conservative government had been elected with a pro-European manifesto. But public and parliamentary support for Europe was slipping and Britain's entry was in doubt. Although the Cabinet was dominated by pro-Europeans, Heath presided over a party that was deeply ambivalent about the “Common Market”.
Later that year, a meeting of senior information officers in Whitehall was convened to discuss what could be done. An official present at that meeting says the only department that seemed capable of achieving something effective was the Foreign Office's Information Research Department. IRD had been set up in 1948 by Christopher Mayhew, then Foreign Minister, to place covert anti-Communist propaganda throughout the world and was funded by the intelligence budget - the secret vote. IRD was closely linked with MI6 and shared many officers - including at one time the double agent Guy Burgess. By the late Sixties, IRD had more than 400 people occupying River-walk House opposite the Tate Gallery and undercover officers in embassies all over the globe.
The civil servant who ran the covert pro-Europe campaign was Norman Reddaway, Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, with a brief covering IRD and other FO information services.
Mr Reddaway, who later became ambassador to Poland, and is now retired, set up a special IRD unit to propagandise in favour of British entry and counter those who opposed it. In an unpublished interview, Mr Reddaway says: “The researchers were extremely good at researching the facts about going into Europe”
The unit worked closely with a number of pro-European politicians to rebut anti-EEC arguments. IRD wrote and brokered articles which were placed in the press “There was no shortage of MPs who were pleased to see something published under their name in The Times and elsewhere,” a former insider said.
The separate, breakfast offensive, meanwhile, was organised by the ex-director of publicity for the Conservative Party, Geoffrey Tucker. Mr Tucker had left the position following the Conservatives' victory in 1970 to return to independent public relations, but, as a convinced European, had suggested to Mr Heath that a series of informal meetings should be organised to find ways of ensuring support for entry.
These meetings were to be between “insiders” from the Government and Civil Service (including the negotiators) and “outsiders” (such as media figures and opposition leaders). Tucker set about arranging what would become known as the media breakfasts held in a private room at the Connaught Hotel
Pro-Europeans from all parties were represented. Those from the Labour Party included Roy Jenkins, Roy Hattersley and Gwyn Morgan, the deputy general secretary of the party, now working for the European Commission. Also present was Michael Ivens, director of the Aims of Industry organisation. The breakfasts were usually attended by Norman Reddaway and Ernest Wistrich, director of the British European Movement.
The meetings usually involved 20-30 people. By bringing in figures such as Nigel Ryan. from News at Ten, Ian Trethowen, then managing director of BBC Radio. and Marshall Stewart from the BBC Radio Today programme, the media breakfasts were able to suggest pro-European ideas for television and radio programmes. Tucker allowed the media guests access to the EEC negotiators. “Into the breakfasts came the people from Brussels. so the people who went to the breakfasts from the media got a briefing on what was actually going on day by day. So we were making news,” says Tucker. He says News at Ten started a series of five-minute specials on the EEC, with a strong factual tone, as a direct result of the breakfasts.
Nigel Ryan told us: “I certainly met Tucker many times in the period as he was Heath's media man. I cannot specifically remember these media breakfasts in this distance of time, but the ITN special items may have come out of them. These items would have been made with the usual editorial independence that ITN so fiercely guarded.”
Marshall Stewart recalls attending a number of the meetings which he says he found useful to gather information “at a time when there was a paucity of facts about the EEC”.
Mr Tucker has even claimed that, after pressure from the campaigners, the broadcaster Jack de Manio was removed from his job as a presenter of BBC Radio's Today programme because he was “too anti-European”, But Marshall Stewart denies the claim, describing it as “bizarre”.
Very few of the participants appear to have been aware of the source of the funding for the breakfasts, although some had their suspicions. Michael Ivens says he suspected that it might have been funded by IRD. “Tucker once told me that Ted [Heath] objected to the cost of the breakfasts.” he said. Tucker says he thought they had been funded by the European Movement. Ernest Wistrich says he is unsure where the money came from.
Following withdrawal of IRD support, “the flame was kept alive”, according to Tucker, by Geoffrey [later Lord] Rippon and the European League for Economic Co-operation.
After Armstrong prevailed on Edward Heath to cut IRD's secret subsidies, ELEC appointed McAlpine to find funds to keep the pro-Europe media campaign going. “One matter I really do know about is how to organise a good breakfast,” McAlpine says. The breakfasts - now in the Dorchester - continued until after the 1975 referendum.
A Discreet Word - Britain's secret propaganda during the Cold War by Paul Lashmar and James Oliver is to be published by Sutton in early 1998
Clarion foot notes
The text above was transcribed by Clarion from a physical copy of the Sunday Telegraph.
In fact the book that was later published was ‘Britain's secret propaganda war 1948-1977’, Paul Lashmar and James Oliver, Sutton Publishing Limited, 1998
Alistair McAlpine, later Lord McAlpine, “treasurer for a pro-European lobby organisation”
The man mentioned in the article above as “treasurer for a pro-European lobby organisation called the European League for Economic Co-operation” (ELEC) - Alistair McAlpine - was later involved with the “Referendum Party” of James Goldsmith. A long newspaper article written by McAlpine himself - “Deal the Tories never honoured”, The Times, 7 October 1997, page 15 - includes a photograph of him sitting next to Goldsmith. The caption reads “Sir James with Lord McAlpine of West Green at the Referendum Party conference in 1996”. In this article McAlpine purports to give details of telephone conversations and meetings between Goldsmith and the Prime Minister, John Major, concerning the Referendum Party. The introduction to the article is: “Former Tory party treasurer turned Referendum Party supporter, Lord McAlpine, on how Sir James Goldsmith thought he had a deal over Europe”.
According to a 2000 edition of Debrett's, in addition to treasurer, McAlpine also became (and remained) vice president of ELEC: “Career dir: Newarthill plc, George Weidenfeld Holdings Ltd 1975-83; vice pres Euro League of Econ Cooperation 1975- (treas 1974-5); hon treas Euro Democratic Union 1978-88, Cons and Unionist Pty 1975-90 (dep chm 1979-83); dir: ICA 1972-73, T I Finance Ltd 1981-90 (chm 1985-90);”... ‘Debrett's People of today’, Debrett's Peerage Ltd, 2000, page 1222
Amongst other things, Debrett's also mentions “Liveryman Worshipful Co of Gunmakers”. The Referendum Party is not mentioned.
Another glimpse of McAlpine occurs in Diaries, Alan Clark, Orion Books, 1994 where in his entry for 4 January 1991, Clark writes that McAlpine has lent ex-prime minister Thatcher a house. “The tiny little house, lent her by Alistair McAlpine, on College Green, still carries the faintest whiff of Number 10.” A footnote says “Lord McAlpine of West Green (Life Peer, 1984). Honorary Treasurer, The Conservative Party, 1975-90.” Thatcher and McAlpine are also mentioned by the author Anthony Sampson. Sampson was at a party hosted by Conrad Black to celebrate the election in April 1992. He writes “Mrs Thatcher left to go on to Lord McAlpine's party where her closer supporters were celebrating.” page 2, ‘The Essential Anatomy of Britain’, Anthony Sampson, Hodder & Stoughton, 1992
More recently McAlpine is listed as a member of the “UK Advisory Board” of something called the “The European Foundation”, of 28 Broadway, St James's Park, SW1H 9JX. Inside the front cover of its glossy periodical, in a long list of names, appears “Lord McAlpine of West Green”. One of the stated objectives of The European Foundation is “to halt the continuing arrogation of power by the EC/EU”. There is also a “Mission Statement”: “YES to European trade! NO to European government!”. The European Journal, ISSN 1351-6620, Vol 15 no 2, February/March 2008.
Press cutting 18 Aug 1985
Observer article: Revealed: How MI5 vets BBC staffDavid Leigh and Paul Lashmar, Observer, 18 August 1985, page 1
Press cutting 20 Oct 1997
Times article: MI6 fed Cold War propaganda to BBCMichael Evans, Times, 20 October 1997, page 8
Press cutting 29 Jan 1978
Observer article: How the FO waged secret propaganda war in BritainRichard Fletcher, George Brock & Phil Kelly, Observer, 29 January 1978, page 2
Marshall Plan money made propaganda films for European common market says BBC documentary"Animation Nation", BBC Bristol 2005, Produced and directed by Merryn Threadgould
- Daily Telegraph article: Euro-federalists financed by US spy chiefs Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Daily Telegraph, 19 September 2000
- Guardian article: Inside Ricu, the shadowy propaganda unit inspired by the cold war Ian Cobain, Alice Ross, Rob Evans and Mona Mahmood, Guardian, 2 May 2016
- Middle East Eye article: How a book on Cold War propaganda inspired British counter-terror campaign Ian Cobain, Middle East Eye, 21 November 2018 (RICU/IRD/Bell Pottinger/CIA/Richard Chalk/Syria/Breakthrough Media)
- Declassified UK article: Britain's hidden ‘information’ policy in the Middle East John McEvoy, Declassified UK, 17 March 2020 (Declassified 1960s files: “British officials consistently emphasised the importance of dominating the airwaves”...)