It appears from the Memorandum that Lord Morley might have gone beyond the purely negative attitude of Non-Intervention, which had been the normal and traditional policy of Great Britain when wars broke out between foreign powers in which British interests were not directly concerned. He would have made use of the German inquiries about Belgian neutrality to prolong the negotiations, and would apparently have been willing to follow the policy of Mr. Gladstone’s administration in 1870, so far as to make British neutrality dependent on the non-invasion of Belgium.
The difference between his attitude and that of Sir Edward Grey in this respect comes out in Sir Edward’s (Grey) despatch of August 1 to Sir E. Goschen, then our Ambassador in Berlin, relating a conversation with Prince Lichnowsky, the German Ambassador in London. Whether Lichnowsky’s questions received due consideration is not clear, and Lord Morley’s Memorandum does not remove the obscurity. But it is clear that the Foreign Secretary declined to promise British neutrality, even if the German Government pledged itself not to violate Belgian neutrality.1
It has been mentioned that Lord Morley sent his Memorandum to Lord Loreburn. A correspondence ensued in the autumn of 1917. Two of Lord Loreburn’s letters on the subject were preserved by Morley and deposited along with the Memorandum. ‘This document’, so wrote Loreburn after perusing the Memorandum in a letter of November 1, 1917, ‘I assume will see the light at the date you think most convenient. It is, of course, written from the inner sanctuary of Government and leaves an indelible proof of the central fact that our duties to France under the Entente caused our entry into the war, and that the case of Belgium might (but for that) have been dealt with and Belgium secured without war.’ Morley’s reply is missing, but there is a second letter from Loreburn of November 5 declaring his opinion that the ‘Memo of your last Cabinet … has much value in several ways’. He lays stress upon three points. The first is biographical or autobiographical. ‘It shows
1 The reader will find Sir Edward Grey’s despatch to Sir E. Goschen and also Sir E. Goschen’s preceding despatch to Sir Edward Grey printed in the Appendix at pp. 37-39. without any express assertion that you had been misled for a long time, like many others, as to the true relations with France and as to Grey’s inward conception of them. It shows why you tried to prevent this horror, and at what stages in July and August 1914.
I think this document is due to you and Burns.’
In the second place ‘it has a historical interest; for it shows conclusively that the real thing which brought us into this war was our relations to France and not Belgium’.
Thirdly, ‘it has a practical value for the future; for it shows how secret diplomacy leads to misconception of their true position, when the deceivers have to determine on action, and how the knowledge that they have been deceivers, even if imperfectly realised, makes them irresolute and blunt in their perceptions, for they are always thinking not only of the impending danger but also of the way in which they can reconcile their previous concealments and misrepresentations with their present action’.
Morley’s private strictures on the conduct of his old colleagues, from whom he parted in grief and sorrow, were less embittered than Loreburn’s; for the ties of personal friendship and affection which united him to some of them could not be broken by public difference—though the chasm was deep, wide and unbridgeable. But he never regretted the course he had taken, or swerved from his conviction that his country should have been kept out of the war. He held that the consequences of the war justified his opinions and actions, differing in this respect from several friends who had agreed with him at the beginning of August 1914.
In view of official publications, which are gradually revealing the diplomatic history of Great Britain’s Ententes with France and Russia, it is unnecessary to say much about Morley’s previous associations with the foreign policy of the Cabinet. It may, however, be useful to mention one or two points. He was not made aware of the short but sharp crisis in our relations with Germany, which occurred soon after the formation of Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman’s Government. During his tenure of the India Office his relations with Sir Edward Grey were most cordial and intimate; and so they remained, in spite of the Cabinet crisis about Agadir, until the outbreak of the Great War. After his retirement Lord Morley, like his friend Lord Loreburn, began to retrace and reflect upon previous diplomatic transactions and to survey to be policy pursued by the Foreign Offlce. He was much struck by a Memorandum written by Mr. Eyre Crowe on ‘the Present State of British Relations with France and Germany’, dated Foreign Office, January 1, 1907, and marked ‘Secret’. Neither Morley nor Loreburn (who refers to it in a letter) seemed to have paid much attention to it at the time, as they were both immersed in their own work. But Morley’s copy (preserved in the same despatch box with his own Memorandum) profusely marked and accompanied by one or two marginal notes, testifies to the importance he set upon it as a clue to Foreign Office policy.
The Crowe Memorandum is printed in the third volume of British Documents on the Origins of the War, edited by Messrs. Gooch and Temperley (pp. 397-420). It appears from the Minutes that Sir Edward Grey valued it very highly and ordered it to be sent to the Prime Minister, Lord Ripon, Mr. Asquith, Mr. Morley, and Mr. Haldane. In one of his marginal notes Morley remarks that the great vice of diplomacy is that it does not allow for fluidity—for new planets, or world powers, swimming into the skies, e.g. Japan and the United States. His chief objection to Crowe’s essay seems to be that it makes too much of German Imperialism and too little of British Imperialism; but there are several passages with which he agreed, and one of these may be cited here as expressing his own views on an important aspect of British foreign policy.
It follows a statement that the first interest of all countries is the preservation of National Independence and that England, ‘more than any other non-insular Power, has a direct and positive interest in the maintenance of the independence of nations, and therefore must be the natural enemy of any country threatening the independence of others and the natural protector of the weaker communities’. The Crowe Memorandum then proceeds: ‘Second only to the ideal of independence nations have always cherished the right of free intercourse and trade in the world’s markets, and in proportion as England champions the principle of the largest measure of general freedom of commerce she undoubtedly strengthens her hold on the interested friendship of other nations, at least to the extent of making them feel less apprehensive of naval supremacy in the hands of a Free Trade England than they would in the face of a predominant protectionist Power. This is an aspect of the Free Trade question which is apt to be overlooked. It has been well said that every country, if it had the option, would of course prefer itself to hold the power of supremacy at sea, but that, this choice being excluded, it would rather see England hold that power than any other state.’ On the whole, however, in spite: of agreement here and there, the policy of the Crowe Memorandum with its endorsement of Balance of Power represents a line, and points in a direction, antipathetic to Morley and to the views that appear in his own Memorandum. He had welcomed the French Entente, but he used his influence at every opportunity to prevent friendship from France developing into hostility towards Germany.
On or about July 24-27 1 Grey took a very important line in the Cabinet. He informed us of the contents of Buchanan’s telegram of July 24 from Petersburg: describing Sazonoff’s hopes that England would not fail to proclaim her solidarity with France and Russia; his warnings to us that the general European question was involved and England could not afford to efface herself from the problems now at issue; that she would sooner or later be dragged into war if it did break out; and, as Buchanan thought, even if England declined to join, France and Russia were determined to make a strong stand, i.e. in plain language, to fight Austria and Germany. [White print, No. 6. 2]
Then Grey in his own quiet way, which is none the less impressive for being so simple, and so free from the cassant and over-emphatic tone that is Asquith’s vice on such occasions, made a memorable pronouncernent. The time had come, he said, when the Cabinet was bound to make up its mind plainly whether we were to take an active part with the two other Powers of the Entente, or to stand aside in the general European question, and preserve an absolute neutrality.
We could no longer defer decision. Things were moving very rapidly. We could no longer wait on accident, and postpone. If the Cabinet was for Neutrality, he did not think that he was the man to carry out such a policy.
Here he ended in, accents of unaffected calm and candour. The Cabinet seemed to heave a sort of sigh, and a moment or two of breathless silence fell upon us. I followed him, expressing my intense satisfaction that he had brought the inexorable position, to which circumstances had now brought us, plainly and definitely before us. It was fairer to France and everybody else, ourselves included. Though he had at least once, talking to an ambassador, drawn a distinction between diplomatic and military intervention, it was henceforth assumed that intervention meant active resort to arms. We rambled, as erne the best Cabinets are apt to do, from the cogent riddle that the European Sphinx or Sphinxes had posed, into incidental points and secondary aspects. I could not, on the instant, gather with any certainty in which direction opinion was inclining. No wonder. Everybody had suddenly awakened to the startling fact that nothing less than the continued existence of the Ministry was this time the first time in sharp peril from differences within, and not from the House of Commons.