ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Turning now to politics of a European nature, it is not news that over the centuries relations between Britain and France have from time to time been a little cool. Now comes this news. Fifty years ago the two countries considered a merger. According to documents uncovered by the BBC, the two discussed a union back in the mid-1950s. This would have made the queen of England the French head of state.
Joining us is Dennis MacShane. He's a member of parliament for Britain's Labour Party and the former Minister of Europe.
Mon Dieu! Mr. MacShane, can this be true? Give us details, would you.
Mr. DENNIS MACSHANE (Labour Party): It's a lovely, wonderful story. This is a document that's been lying around in the archives for anybody to read for 20 years. And it shows how the French prime minister in 1956 said to the British Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, why don't the two countries merge and form one united nation? And Anthony Eden said, Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! No. No. That's too much, too much. And then the French socialist prime minister said, well, maybe we can join the commonwealth and we'd still like the queen to be the head of state in France.
So it's an extraordinary footnote to the thousand years history of up and down relations between our two countries.
CHADWICK: Well, I would say so. I mean, normally these mergers have come about in the past because one country has declared war on the other and tried to conquer the other. I mean, the idea of this sort of union is quite surprising to many of us.
Mr. MACSHANE: Well, it shouldn't be to those who know their World War II history; that's to say the two years of the world war before America entered it. Because in June, 1940, when Winston Churchill took over as prime minister of England, he proposed to the French government to merge the two countries to form a united Franco-British nation to face the threat of the Nazis. It was a way of trying to put backbone into the French. At that stage it was the French who said no.
But in a funny way, under the European Union that both Britain and France now belong to, every French citizen can come and live and work here freely without any kind of residence papers or green cards or anything. And you have 300,000 Frenchmen and Frenchwomen living and working in England. My parliamentary - the head of my parliamentary office has a French woman, for example. And you have half a million Brits who own homes and live some of the time in France. So you're getting that kind of soft merger of the two countries.
CHADWICK: But don't you think, you know, that the reputation of these two is not entirely - it doesn't grow out of nothing? That when a Frenchman and an Englishman are in the same room, each is slightly annoyed at the presence of the other.
Mr. MACSHANE: What you have in Britain and in France are two distinct categories. There are people like Winston Churchill or the present prime minister, Tony Blair, myself, who like France, and get irritated by France, get fed up at times with France. And you have French citizens who have the same position. And then you've got guys like General DeGaulle, who dislike what he called les Anglo-Saxon, the Anglo-Saxons, that was us. That was you, the Americans, Canadians, Australians.
You've got Mrs. Thatcher, who never liked the French at all. And so you've got different categories of French and British citizens, who over literally centuries have either loved each other's countries, even if at times we wanted to go to war. Britain and France are like a very old married couple who often think of killing each - the opposite partner but would never dream of getting a divorce.
CHADWICK: Dennis MacShane, former minister of Europe and a member of British parliament on the news that Britain and France once considered a union 50 years ago.
Dennis, thanks for speaking with us.
Mr. MACSHANE: Thank you.
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