Nicholas Soames Interview: Churchill Would Listen To Obama's Call To Stay In EU

Great PM's grandson and Tory MP on Brexit, Boris and Twitter

11/05/2016 11:25
Andrew Matthews/PA Archive

Winston Churchill would have backed staying in the European Union because the United States asked Britain to remain, his grandson and Tory grandee Sir Nicholas Soames has told The Huffington Post UK.

Sir Nicholas, outspoken in his support for voting to stay in the EU on June 23, cited how Churchill’s "last words to his Cabinet were 'stick with the Americans'" as he indicated President Barack Obama's plea would have been significant.

The former defence minister has witnessed both the In and Out campaigns raise the spectre of the Second World War Prime Minister to back their position.

"Brexit" campaigner Boris Johnson, a Churchill biographer, this week said the great leader would not have supported a "United States of Europe".

But Sir Nicholas says his grandfather's opinions were a "matter of interpretation" since he died 50 years' ago.

He said: "I just say this about Churchill. My grandfather served under six of the kings and queens of Britain.

"He became a soldier when Queen Victoria was still on the throne. And he was the Queen’s first Prime Minister, leaving office ushering in the nuclear age.

"Do you not think his views might have changed in that long space of time in public life?

"I can only tell you that Churchill, who judged the world as he saw it, is unlikely I feel to have looked out in to the 2016 world, as opposed to the 1948 world, and said: ‘Yes, I think it’s sensible for Britain to leave'.

"Particularly when the President of the United States urges us to stay in, when Churchill’s last words to his Cabinet were 'stick with the Americans'.”

Churchill gives a review of the first month of the war during his radio broadcast on October 1, 1939

The Obama intervention, Sir Nicholas thinks, is not to be sniffed at. “How can it be unwelcome that the leader of our greatest ally would not tell us if he thinks we are going to make a great mistake? I think he is right.”

In a wide-ranging interview on the in-out EU referendum, the MP explains in his own inimitable style how leaving would be "bollocks" for the British economy, that he should be despatched to Brussels to "bloody fight for it", and how 'Project Fear' is really "Project Get A Grip".

Despite a new-found fame on Twitter with its 140 character limit, it's hard to rein the MP of 33 years in.

“Don’t do soundbites, no,” he says, unapologetically, from his busy and well-appointed Westminster office as he wrestles with the controller to a "marvellous" new Dyson air purifier.

Sir Nicholas, who served in the Army in West Germany, makes clear the main reason for wanting to stay - among “endless arguments” - is security.

“I soldiered in the Cold War at a time when it was very, very rum indeed with the Russians. I feel that the situation is much less stable now than it was then."

He sees the European Union as the "glue" that has "created this very peaceful and prosperous time since the end of the last war".

"When the Cold War ended, an enormous amount of the glue that held the Nato partners together disintegrated overnight. That's why Nato is no longer as effective as it once was.

"What the European Union did was expand to the east, bringing in all those countries which for my part and all those who had served in the Army in the 1970s were geared up to fight - the Poles, the Czechs, the Romanians, all of them.”

He added: “You can complain about the bureaucracy, the red tape and the bendy bananas. But that's not what this about.

"What we can’t do is cut ourselves off from everything that happens just 21 miles across the Channel and pretend in a very difficult, very complicated world Britain can really survive by herself."

Though, he adds, it would be wrong to say Britain couldn't survive outside the EU. "Of course she could," he says, bristling at the suggestion. "But our place in the world will be greatly diminished if we leave the European Union.

"A lot of countries who are our great friends would be aghast and I don't think things would ever be the same again.”

PA/PA Wire
Sir Nicholas Soames and his grandfather, Sir Winston Churchill

The economic argument is so compelling that he's dismissive of the counterpoint, which in essence argues Britain could forge a buccaneering future unburdened by Brussels. "I think it’s bollocks, personally. I think it’s mad."

In fact, Sir Nicholas senses a post-empire "insular" mindset among Out-ers, and thinks Britain's status as a "global player" is founded on straddling a number of "horses".

"We ride the European horse, we ride the Trans-Atlantic horse, We ride the Commonwealth horse. We ride all these horses because we are a global player. So why the bloody hell would we want to knock one great chunk out of it?"

Sir Nicholas baulks at the "euro-phile" description, preferring "euro-realist".“I hate the word 'europhiles', it sounds like pedophiles and it’s always said in such a way."

Whatever you call them, he notes Remain-ers only periodically twitch in to life. "The supporters of the European thing have had the great figures like Michael Heseltine and others. But they’ve never really opened their shoulders. They’ve always taken it as read that people understood this was part of our destiny."

But the EU does have problems.

"Sometimes it makes me sick with anger in the way it needs reform. But why don’t we play a bigger role in doing that? Governments for generations have not played the role they should have done until they want something done."

As such, he has a suggestion for David Cameron.

“I want the Prime Minister to make me the commissioner in Brussels. I’d bloody fight for it," he say, only half-jokingly.

Many voters feel discussions about a resurgent Russia and trade deals say nothing to them about their life. What about border control?

Sir Nicholas makes no attempt to "belittle" fears, acknowledging "tens of millions of people are on the move" globally. "We’re not doing this very well. And the bloke in Grimsby will say ‘that bugger stole my job’. We have to find a better way of doing this, and resolving this."

But, as with fears over loss of sovereignty, the answer can be more readily found in the EU rather than outside it, he says.

"I consider myself to be a proud Briton. A proud Englishman. A proud European. And a citizen of the world. I do not consider my sovereignty in any way diminished by being in the European Union.

"Take France, the most aggressively nationalist country at all. Do you think that their nationalism is in any way tempered by being a member of the European Union? Absolutely not.

"Any more than proud Germans, proud Czechs or proud Hungarians? We’re all intensely proud of our national heritage."

David M. Benett via Getty Images
Boris Johnson speaks at the launch of his new book 'The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History' in 2014

He scoffs at the Out campaign's claims that In-ers are deploying 'Project Fear', a device to scare voters into staying and backing Cameron's 'deal'. This week, newspapers splashed on the PM's suggestion leaving the EU could disrupt "peace and stability" - which many wrote up as suggesting war was on the cards.

“I think Project Fear is absolute fucking rubbish," he says, speaking freely once more. "I haven’t said anything that’s meant to frighten people.

"I think people have to face up to the reality of taking a very difficult decision, and I think to pretend, as the Brexiteers quite often do ... are they mad? We are leaving the European Union! Why would they be nice to us.

"Project Fear is a crib sheet answer for someone who hasn’t really thought about the question. I think it’s Project Reality. Project As It Is. Project Get A Grip.”

And he downplays Cameron's Third World War overtures.

"The Prime Minister made a very powerful speech about Britain’s place in the world. It wasn’t about going to war, if you read it. There’s no mention of going to war. That’s just what the Daily Mail makes of it. It’s about understanding the realities of the great difficulties we all face."

Sir Nicholas counts Boris Johnson, the frontman of the Brexit campaign, as a "great friend". But he slapped down his Tory colleague after the former mayor of London highlighted how a bust of Churchill had been removed from the Oval Office in the White House “on day one” when Obama became President, which was viewed as “a snub to Britain”.

Today, he is resisting "ad hominem" attacks. "Boris is a great friend of mine and I regret that I find myself on the other side of the coin to him. He’s an unbelievably able, clever, brilliant man. I wish he was on my side."

Sir Nicholas has also suggested on Twitter that he is unconvinced by Johnson's position on Europe.

He expands by pointing to "inconsistency" over the 'TTIP' trade deal with the US that is edging closer to being signed off. "Boris a year ago was wholly in favour of it. He wrote an article in The Telegraph saying it was Churchillian in its grandeur and breadth. He's now jumped turkey on that."

Regardless, Sir Nicholas is a huge fan of Johnson's "magnificent" book on his grandfather, The Churchill Factor. “I think it’s one of the best books ever written about my grandfather.

"You must understand it was commissioned because it opened up my grandfather’s life to a much younger, wider audience. Boris is a fabulous writer, and I often and warmly congratulate him on it.”

He's relaxed about Churchill being bandied around and appropriated by the In and Out campaigns. "I’m proud he means so much to people, and people so often quote him. He is such a huge figure. And each side wishes to claim him for their own. Nothing I do or say will stop them from doing that.”

Sir Nicholas is less keen to talk about Tory rifts caused by the referendum and what the vote means for thew future leadership of the Tory party when David Cameron steps down before the 2020 general election. 

HuffPost: Can the rifts be healed?

“Hard words will be exchanged, and they will be forgotten and put in the back pocket. Rows will be forgotten. Quarrels will be forgotten. And we will all come back together after the result, because that’s the way the Tory party is. We are the party of government.”

HuffPost: Tory MP Stewart Jackson tweeted the Remain campaign should keep you in a cupboard ...

“He can say what he wants. I’m sure Stewart Jackson will make a tremendous contribution to the European movement and to the Tory party whatever happens in the referendum.”

HuffPost: And can the next Tory leader be a Remainer?

“I can’t answer that question. It will be whoever the Tory party chooses. That’s not what this interview is about, I don’t want to talk about that. No interest to me.”

Sir Nicholas is more relaxed when talking about Twitter. His blunt views and free-wheeling hashtags ( is the latest gem) have made him the break-out social media star of the campaign. He was introduced to the medium by Tory colleagues over lunch one day, and hasn't looked back.

“You have to be very disciplined, and I find it difficult to keep that discipline," he says, perhaps an unsurprising revelation to his 13,000 followers. "I’m all for teasing people, but I’m amazed at how it becomes so punchy. I’m at a loss to people’s rudeness.”

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