By Jacqueline Tratt
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Extra info for The Macmillan Government and Europe: A Study in the Process of Policy Development
It was a strained encounter and little was achieved. M. Chauvel, while expressing sympathy for the British view, spoke of the 'compelling internal political reasons' for French prevarication. The foreign secretary's allusion to new trade arrangements that Britain would be forced to make if the FTA failed to materialize, 'whose only beneficiaries would be the Russians', was met with the candid observation that 'the General himself knew nothing of economics and was not very interested in the subject'.
37 Macmillan countered by pointing out that Britain was traditionally isolationist. He implied that a trade war resulting from failure to reach agreement would jeopardize Britain's commitment to maintain four divisions on the Continent. But in spite of Macmillan's best efforts - even attempting, at one stage, to turn to account de Gaulle's antipathy towards America the General remained stubbornly non-committal. By July 1958, no negotiations had taken place for five months and the president of the Board of Trade was setting about the bad business of seeking an alternative to the FTA.
The fact that no attempt was made to examine the foundations of the so-called bridge - until it could no longer be avoided a year hence - indicates that, even in these exalted circles, hope could still triumph over expediency. For senior ministers such as Sir David Eccles the hope persisted that the achievement of an FTA agreement with the Six was still a possibility - this, despite the fact that the French consistently indicated that, as far as they were concerned, the whole idea was dead and buried.