Europe Day on 9 May gives us an opportunity to celebrate the UK’s role in shaping the Continent, from its early laws, customs and rights to our critical role in liberating the Continent from Nazism and creating the Council of Europe, of which the UK was a founding member in 1949.
The liberation of Europe was planned here in Hammersmith
On 15 May 1944 the final D-Day invasion plan, drawn up by Generals Montgomery and Eisenhower, was presented to Winston Churchill and King George VI in the lecture theatre of the old St Paul’s School in what is now Colet Court, Hammersmith.
Those plans were to mark the beginning of the end of War in Europe, lasting peace and European Unity, of which Churchill was a leading architect.
Britain at the heart of the post-war European family
In his famous ‘Speech to the academic youth’ held at the University of Zurich in 1946, Churchill said:
There is a remedy which ... would in a few years make all Europe ... free and ... happy. It is to re-create the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe.”
Under Churchill’s chairmanship, in 1948 delegates from European countries met at the First Congress of Europe in The Hague and so the post-war European Movement was born, with Churchill its first honorary president.
The following year on 5 May 1949 the Treaty of London creating the Council of Europe was signed on behalf of the UK by Ernest Bevin, the Foreign Secretary. The ceremony was attended by Churchill himself.
One year on, in August 1949, at the first meeting of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, Churchill delivered his speech in French, and said:
‘We are reunited here, in this new Assembly, not as representatives of our several countries or various political parties, but as Europeans forging ahead, hand in hand, and if necessary elbow to elbow, to restore the former glories of Europe. There is no reason for us not to succeed in achieving our goal and laying the foundation of a United Europe. A Europe whose moral design will win the respect and acknowledgement of all humanity, and whose physical strength will be such that no person will dare to disturb it as it marches peacefully towards the future.’
The European Convention on Human Rights was drafted for the Council of Europe during the summer of 1949 by a British lawyer. The United Kingdom was the first nation to ratify the Convention in March 1951. Today it underwrites the legal systems in many countries across Europe.
Britain joined the European Economic Community, which became the European Union, on 1 January 1973. Britain’s membership, alongside Ireland and Denmark’s took the bloc’s membership to nine countries. Today the EU comprises 27 member countries.
If Churchill laid the foundations of the European Union, Margaret Thatcher championed the extension of its powers and boundaries. She was one of the architects of the Single European Act which created the Single European Market – one of the biggest acts of European integration – and extended the powers of the European Parliament. She was also an enthusiastic supporter of the expansion of the bloc eastward to include the former communist states.
Her support for the EU was famously not unqualified. She passionately fought and won a number of battles from which Britain emerged on uniquely favourable terms including the famous rebate.
In the 2016 EU referendum, 70 per cent of Hammersmith & Fulham residents voted to remain in the EU. Hammersmith & Fulham Council was the first council in the country to pass a motion opposing Brexit and remains committed to its EU citizens and to European cooperation.
We hugely value and appreciate our historic and cultural links to all the countries of Europe and the EU citizens who always have been, and always will be, at the heart of our diverse community.” – Cllr Stephen Cowan, the Leader of the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham
The flag of the Council of Europe – of which the UK is still a member – and the European Union will continue to fly over the Town Hall. It reflects H&F’s commitment to the Council of Europe’s core mission “to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law across the continent” and to businesses, residents and visitors to the borough that we continue to value our fellow Europeans and we want you to stay.
We want you to stay
Citizens of the EU, the EEA and Switzerland and their families can still apply to get either settled or pre-settled status to remain living in the UK now that the UK has left the EU.
The deadline to apply for Settled Status is 30 June 2021. Apply now to stop the risk of losing the right to live and work in the UK.
Want to read more news stories like this? Subscribe to our weekly e-news bulletin.