The Secret Diplomacy of England

The following article by Roger Casement on ‘The Secret Diplomacy of England’ was found by Angus Mitchell and supplied to the RIA in 2000. Angus Mitchell’s recent book ‘One Bold Deed of Open Treason – The Berlin Diary of Roger Casement 1914-1916’ makes fascinating reading and is very enlightening about Casement’s thoughts, many of which he could not put to published paper for reasons of politics.

In his book Mr. Mitchell writes about what Casement understood about the genesis of the Great War of 1914:

“For several years, Casement had predicted that conflict was inevitable due to the trajectory of British foreign policy since the signing of the Entente Cordiale (1904) and the Triple Entente (1907). The war brought Casement into direct confrontation with his former colleagues in the British Foreign Office.” (p.3)

‘The Secret Diplomacy of England’ describes how Britain brought about the Great War whilst not obviously trying.

The RIA printed this article in their programme for the Casement conference. It has a similar theme to an article Casement wrote for The Continental Times in November 1915 on ‘Sir Edward Grey’ which will appear in a special issue of Irish Foreign Affairs next month. The Introduction, in brackets at the start, was added by the editor of ‘The Irishman’, where it first appeared in March 1918, a couple of years after Casement’s execution.

The Secret Diplomacy of England

(In February, 1916, the following remarkable article, the last, we believe, written by Roger Casement, came into our possession. For various reasons we refrained from publishing it at the time. Providentially it was not discovered by certain persons who were searching for important documents after the Rising. In view of the prevalent talk about “secret diplomacy” we have decided to give to the world a document which will at once take its place as an item of first-class historic interest. In this article Roger Casement “gives the show away,” and reveals, as will be seen, his far-reaching knowledge of the secrets of Empire. – Ed.)

The explanation of very much of later English political life, and particularly of the withdrawal of foreign affairs from the domain of party or public discussion in Parliament, lies in Mr Gladstone’s downfall over the Irish question.The triumph of English Toryism, reaction, and imperialism that followed the vain attempt of the greatest of English Liberals to do political justice to Ireland was not a passing event.

That failure of Liberalism in Ireland brought with it the permanent eclipse of Liberalism as a power in foreign affairs, and left these to be controlled, without question, by the influences which had opposed Mr. Gladstone’s Irish policy as treachery to the majesty of England, and which had hurled the Liberals from office on the ground that justice to Ireland was treachery to the Empire, and the disruption of the Kingdom.

Up to Mr. Gladstone’s surrender to the Irish Home Rule demand, Parliament delighted in discussing, in inspecting, in prescribing, and, to a great extent even in controlling, the foreign affairs of the country. Debates on foreign policy were the order of the day. Next to the Budget and the control of taxation the House of Commons regarded its influence over the conduct of foreign affairs as one of the prescriptive rights of the people, to be constantly affirmed.

The claim was hateful to the Crown, and the growing forces of imperialism that had no open place in party life – still an affair of “Whig” and “Tory,” of “Ins and Outs.”

General elections were lost and won on the issue of foreign affairs – as, for instance, when Mr. Gladstone turned Beaconsfield out of office in 1880, very largely on the question of the “Bulgarian atrocities” and England’s relations with Turkey.

At that date both front benches were equally patriotic in the eyes of the country. Neither asserted or could claim a larger share in upholding British interests abroad. No question of the “surrender of British interests” to “traitors” had ever arisen to taint the fair name of the Liberal (or Whig) party until Mr. Gladstone discovered Ireland. But in the years 1880 to 1886 Mr. Gladstone committed a double surrender, in the name of Liberalism, that gave his opponents, the Conservatives, the chance of a century. In a night the Liberal party was rent in twain, the Conservatives became the Tories of a hundred years before. They laid hold of the Empire; they grasped the sceptre of Imperialism and bore it scornfully out of the House of Commons.. The Englishman’s birthright must not be surrendered to “rebels” or “traitors.”

Mr. Gladstone’s surrender, first to the Boers after Majuba in 1881, and next to Mr. Parnell” and the Irish people in 1885-6, gave the Conservatives an opening they seized and held, and one they forced the Liberals to pass through as the only way of return to public life. That opening was the door that took the custody of “imperial affairs” – i.e., foreign policy – out of the open assembly of the people into the close air of the Cabinet Council and the closed doors of the Foreign Office. The new gospel of a Liberalism that sought to give political freedom to Ireland, that restored the Transvaal to the Boers, that was charged with intent to break up the British Empire, in fine, a gospel of Liberalism abroad as well as of Liberalism at home, was startling to the masses of Englishmen and hateful to the classes. The former did not understand it, and heard only the shameful words “surrender,” “traitors,” “treason-mongers”; the latter understood it only too well. They saw too that by associating with Mr. Gladstone’s most unpopular effort, that to be just to Ireland, and by linking the hated name of Irish nationality, with a policy of “surrender of British rights,” they might exclude the Liberal party from office for a score of years, and in that period erect on solid foundations the framework of a great imperial structure, secure from popular interference or the prying eyes of popular representatives .

The idea of “Empire” was preached in place of patriotism; and those who dared to think first of England and the home necessities of Englishmen were scornfully termed “little Englanders.”

Mr. Gladstone resigned in 1893, refusing to forego his Irish convictions, to be followed by a weak-kneed “Liberal” who had been his Foreign Minister. Lord Rosebery, never at heart a Liberal, was always an Imperialist. Sir Edward Grey, his admirer and pupil in the Foreign Office, was there in 1895 when the crash came, and the Liberals were driven into the wilderness at the general election, charged with the crime of surrendering the Briton’s birthright – Ireland, India, South Africa, etc., etc. – to a band of traitors and blackmailers.

The heritage of John Bull’s centuries of toil must not be left in the hands of such a party to dispose of. The cause of patriotism became that of imperialism, and was definitely committed to those who had opposed the great surrender to Ireland and got this surrender as their reward.

The Empire, imperilled by Liberalism, was safe in the hands of those who had detected the crime, and of these no questions need be asked. The Liberals, in the wilderness, dared not lift up their voices on any foreign question without the cry of “traitor” being raised. For them it was too dangerous; for the Tories it was not fit that the representatives of “the people” should have any voice in matters best left to their Lords and Masters to deal with in silence. It thus came about that the two Front Benches – the Tory Government in office and the would-be Liberal Government out of office – agreed to exclude the topic of foreign affairs from Parliamentary discussion. A new formula was accepted, one that the higher patriotism calls a “continuity of foreign policy.” A “continuity of foreign policy” meant the exclusion of popular co-operation, and the handing over of the external affairs of the country from Parliament to permanent officialdom.

Thenceforward a policy of Parliamentary silence on all grave aspects of foreign affairs became the accepted role of both great parties in the State. The Tories had won. The Empire was saved, but at the cost that the people to whom it was supposed to belong should have nothing to say about its management. Parliament was excluded from the greatest issues; a debate in the House of Commons on any matter of foreign concern became rarer and rarer: the two front benches willed silence.

With the return of Lord Salisbury to office in 1895, with a clear mandate to do as he pleased, the question of Parliamentary discussion of foreign affairs may be said to have been settled.

The Foreign Secretary was in the House of Lords – a permanent institution of reactionary powers. He was represented in the House of Commons by a nobody or a fool; and as the Liberals dared not discuss the forbidden topic, and the Tories were sure that all was being done as they wished it, the control of foreign policy passed absolutely into the hands of permanent officials, men responsible neither to Parliament nor people, to whom their very names were unknown, but to the Crown alone. Thus came King Edward. How he used his unchecked powers in the domain of foreign affairs is known only too well to-day.

When in December, 1905, the Liberals returned to office, with Sir Edward Grey at the Foreign Office, they did not return to power in matters of foreign policy. The system was already well established. The Liberals, by their cowardice and treachery to the cause of Irish independence had really forfeited their own. No Minister, however strong, could probably have broken the power of the ring of irresponsibles round the King who drove the coach of state surely and relentlessly to a well-planned war. A strong and far-seeing man, a statesman, might have resisted, fought – and resigned. Sir Edward Grey was none of these things: at heart a peace-loving, a domestic, a quiet man, he had been raised to an office he was wholly unfitted for, and chiefly for that reason. The powers that drove the car of State did not want a wiser man. They preferred a man with the taint of “Liberal Imperialism” in his blood, since a Liberal Government had to be accepted at the hands of the English electors. THEY DEMANDED THAT THEY SHOULD GET A TYPE OF LIBERAL SENT TO THE FOREIGN OFFICE WHOM THEY SHOULD BE ABLE TO ADAPT WITHOUT TROUBLE TO THE PURPOSES OF THAT “CONTINUITY OF FOREIGN POLICY” THEY ALREADY HAD IN VIEW. That Sir Edward Grey was just the man they wanted is shown through every sentence of that momentous speech of his, delivered on August 3rd 1914, to the House of Commons on the eve of the Declaration of War. Then for the first time in his ten years of office, he tells the tale of how he had failed. In that fateful pronouncement the Minister stated the case against himself.

He shows how , in the first Morocco crisis of 1906,. at the time of the Algeciras Conference, he allowed himself to be exploited by the Foreign Office and the French Government acting together, into giving that Government a pledge of united military and naval support against Germany “should a sudden crisis arise.” Of course, like all the other undertakings of the Foreign Office on behalf of the Entente, these “conversations between naval and military experts” (already in 1906!) were purely diplomatic overtures and were in no wise to “bind or restrict” the freedom of the government “to make a decision as to whether or not they would give that support when the time arose.”

How could a government that knew nothing about these “conversations” , and “agreements” decide anything wisely “when the time arose?” For Sir Edward Grey assured the House of Commons that if Parliament had been kept in the dark, so too, had the Cabinet. Speaking of these first “conversations between naval and military experts” in January 1906 – when a General Election was in progress and Ministers scattered all over the country and I, spending three days a week in my constituency and three days a week in the Foreign Office” – Sir. Edward Grey explained in August, 1914 to Parliament:– a “The fact that conversation between naval and military experts took place was later on – I think much later on, because that crisis passed and the thing ceased to be of importance – but later on it was brought to the knowledge of the Cabinet.” We hear exactly the same phraseology of futility eight years later.

In July, 1914, when war was certainly decided upon, and when, as Sir Edward Grey’s speech of August 3rd shows, it had been prepared for and made certain by a series of naval and military agreements, he comes forward with a final assurance that a fleet in line of battle at sea to support an army in line of battle on land is only a measure of “diplomatic support.”

This time it is the assurance of July 27th, 1914, to the Russian Government, feverishly mobilising all its forces of war, that in order to ensure peace Sir Edward Grey pledges them the full strength of the British fleet that will not disperse, but will remain mobilised – to be used “for diplomatic support only.”

If Sir Edward Grey believed the things he said in his dispatches to British representatives abroad, and later in his explanation to the House of Commons, we must believe him to be a very incompetent man. If he did not believe the things he said, we must believe him to be a rogue. Now, I know Sir Edward Grey well enough to believe that he is at heart a kindly and well-disposed man, with very good intentions, and so I am convinced he believed the things he said. I prefer to regard him not as the villain of the piece, but as he himself once put it, “the fly on the wheel” of State – the victim rather than the vindicator of British Imperial aims. These aims were already fixed, and the driver at his post when, to vary the metaphor, Sir Edward Grey entered the car. Instead of guiding the engine, he was received as a passenger; and became a helpless spectator as he was being whirled to Armageddon, along with his country, by a route he knew nothing of, and the time-table in other hands. He heard only the voices of a resolute and determined band who assured him that a war chariot being driven straight into battle was an international wagon lit, and that he might sleep in peace until the conductor announced the destination. To-day, when they have brought the chariot to a standstill on the blood-soaked plains of Flanders, and damaged its axles in the gullies of Gallipoli, the Imperialists turn upon the hired man and charge him with bad driving. Instead of a paean of victory they raise a cry of incompetence. But the end is not yet.

The initial lie indeed lies much further back than the falsehood about Belgium. It lies in the falsity of the Liberal Party to its pledges to Ireland. In order to undo with the British electorate, so far as possible, while preserving the Irish vote, the impression that because they were “Home Rulers”, in word they were not good Imperialists in fact, the Liberal party consented to the whole domain of foreign affairs being removed from the control of Parliament and handed to a clique. Sir Edward Grey’s part was only that of a weak and ineffective Liberal chosen to represent a Liberalism that had already abdicated, in a foreign office it had already agreed to band over to the enemies of Liberalism. The result was certain, and we see its fruits to-day. King Edward and his counsellors had as much concern in a Liberal Foreign Minister’s advent to office as they had in the advent of the Duma or the coming of the Persian “Constitution.”

They knew their man; and they knew that the Foreign Office was theirs, whoever might be nominally placed at its head.

To-day Sir Edward Grey may look back on ten years: of “deceit, falsehood and treachery” without a blush. They were not of his planning, and only of his doing in so far as a puppet can be said to do anything. He even believed, I am sure, throughout the whole period, and up to the very declaration of war itself, that he was the Peace Keeper of Europe. He was told so by his advisers and masters. The men who for their own ends dubbed King Edward, “Edward the Peacemaker,” assured the other Edward that he was the greatest Foreign Minister in Europe, and that in his strong hands reposed the peace of the world. And the man who subscribed in my hearing, in November, 1901, to Lord Rosebery’s abjuring of his Home Rule pledge to Ireland at Chesterfield – and who, in my hearing, got up before that great assembly of Liberals and declared that in those perjured words the Liberal party had a lead of statesmanship to follow – this man could easily believe that it was possible to enter into secret armed conventions, to subscribe to secret military compacts, to sanction “conversations” of naval and military experts, all of them plainly directed to one end alone, and that in so doing he was but pledging the “diplomatic support” of Great Britain to the cause of peace and not to the certainty of war. The price that English Liberalism has paid for its treachery to the cause of Ireland has been to hand the world policy of England over to Edward the Peacemaker and – Sir Edward Grey.

Now that the end of that policy is well in sight; I hope that Ireland, the Nemesis of the British Empire, will be securely placed to witness that end.


Published in The Irishman – Saturday 9 March 1918

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