Grey’s next task was daunting. So formidable, that when analysed, you cannot but admire the tenacity shown by him, his foreign office team, and the few members of cabinet who shared in the complicity. This was his first challenge; to win over, or at least neutralise a Liberal Cabinet which was by its very nature, anti-war. Although he was aided by a small coterie of Cabinet Ministers whose commitment to the Secret Elite cause could be dated back to their loyal association with Alfred Milner [1] in the Boer War years, Cabinet approval was no done deal.

Asquith and Margot his wife

Prime Minister Asquith confessed in a letter to his beloved Venetia that he had a problem. This was a Cabinet that had no intention of going to war, or of approving a war; a Cabinet that represented a political party that would never vote for war and a population that had no concept of the war that was planned for them. No one should underestimate the enormity of the challenge that Grey and Asquith faced, even though Northcliffe and The Times and all of the powerful agencies that operated behind the political screen backed them to the hilt. If ever a disparate group required careful man-management it was Asquith’s Liberal Cabinet in August 1914. How he, Grey, Haldane, Churchill and Lloyd George achieved the Secret Elite objective remains a testament to how good men can be worn down by expectation, pressure, false information and inflamed public reaction to turn their back on what they know to be right.

Asquith convened a special Cabinet meeting on Sunday, 2 August 1914. Had a vote on Britain’s involvement in a European war been taken at the outset, only the known stalwarts would have been in favour. The other campaign-hardened political veterans were set against it. Lord Morley complained that they had known nothing of the extent of the military and naval agreements with the French. They began to appreciate that ‘a web of obligations, which they had been assured were not obligations, had been spun round them while they slept’. [2] But realisation dawned slowly, and Asquith was sufficiently astute to avoid rushing to a decision by a show of hands.

Lord Morely

Those anxious, heavy-hearted, loyal Liberals, whose consciences and years of commitment to peace made the meeting almost unbearable, struggled with the enormity that was suddenly presented to them. Sir Edward Grey suppressed information about the German proposal on neutrality. It was never voiced as an option. Had Cabinet ministers been given all relevant information and time to consider the options, discuss the implications with significant others in their constituencies and prepare themselves properly, matters would likely have taken a very different turn. Instead they had to listen to situation reports from Berlin, Paris, St Petersburg, Vienna and Belgium that caught them by surprise and were presented in a manner that vilified Germany.

Talk of resignations – three, perhaps four – darkened the mood and threatened to tear the Cabinet apart. Asquith faced the prospect of having to form a coalition government with the Conservative and Unionist opposition. It had no appeal, but if needs dictated Asquith knew he could count on them to go to war. He had in his pocket a letter from the Conservative leader Bonar Law that promised unhesitating support for the government in any measures that were required to assist Russia and France in their war against Germany. Their view was that it would be ‘fatal to the honour and security of the United Kingdom to hesitate in supporting France and Russia at the present juncture’. [3] It was a letter that had been written at the suggestion of Balfour in the inner circle of the Secret Elite.

Asquith begged Cabinet Ministers John Burns, [4] Sir John Simon, Lord Beauchamp, Joseph Pease and others who were clearly swithering not to make a rash decision. He implored them to wait at least until Sir Edward Grey had addressed Parliament. The semblance of a united Cabinet, however illusory, would have a greater impact on the general public than a clear division of opinion, and would avoid the identification of figureheads around whom opponents of the war might rally. The Secret Elite would not entertain any unwelcome diversions as they took the final decisive step to bounce Britain into the war. The non-interventionists, those who did not want any involvement at all, were not themselves united. Some would accept war if Belgium was invaded. The pros and cons of neutrality were thrashed around the Cabinet table. Eventually, a loose consensus agreed that Sir Edward Grey would tell the House of Commons that Britain could not stand aside if Belgium was invaded, that France would be given maritime support, and Germany would be advised of this. [5] The opening Cabinet session lasted for three hours, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at which point Asquith scribbled a note to Venetia: ‘We are on the brink of a split’. [6] The prime minister was renowned for his excessive drinking, but he was no dupe. He above all knew the enormous hurdle faced in turning the Cabinet round to accept war, not least because he was certain that a good three-quarters of his own party stood for ‘absolute non-interference at any price’. [7] He did everything possible to avoid putting the decision to the vote. And his tactic worked.

Paul Cambon, French Foreign Minister

Sir Edward Grey continued to drive forward the plans for war even though he had no Cabinet approval. At 3 p.m. on that Sunday afternoon, during an interval between the two Cabinet meetings, he called the French ambassador, Paul Cambon, and confirmed that if German warships came into the Channel to attack France, the British navy would sink them. This should have been subject to Parliamentary approval, though in the event, Parliament was never asked. Cambon was careful to hide his elation. If Britain was prepared to take sides to protect the Channel coast, she was halfway to a full commitment to war. He would later comment: ‘The game was won. A great country does not make war by halves.’ [8] Cambon knew it and Sir Edward Grey knew it. Britain was going to war.

And what of David Lloyd George, the erstwhile pacifist and dazzling, devious darling of the Radical masses in whom the hope and trust of the anti-war Liberals had been invested? Lloyd George appeared to be on the side of the ‘non-interventionists’ and should have been their natural leader. They assumed that he was, but were very mistaken. Lloyd George had long since sold his soul to the Secret Elite. Had he been allowed to remain a free agent, an anti-war Liberal group headed by him would have constituted the Secret Elite’s gravest nightmare. The damage he could have caused was literally boundless. A splinter Cabinet led by a national figure, a rallying point for the Liberals and the Labour Party in Parliament, would have spelled disaster for the warmongers. But Lloyd George was not what he seemed. It was not for his own sake that he had been saved by the Secret Elite from public scandal, extra-marital excesses, from court cases and from the opprobrium of the Marconi Scandal, been favoured with a wealthy lifestyle and mistress and kept in a luxury he could never have personally afforded. [9]

Lloyd George simply continued his long-term payback. The Cabinet met again that evening. Grey informed them that he had told Cambon of their agreement to protect France if the German navy attacked her Channel coastline. Nothing further was decided. No one appeared to realise what Cambon instantly surmised. Britain had taken sides. The Liberal Cabinet tottered on the brink of disintegration. Ten or eleven ministers were still against war. [10] Not undecided; still against the war. Surely the essential qualities of British fairness, decency and parliamentary democracy would safeguard the nation from a disaster that its elected representatives did not want? A number of the less prominent Cabinet ministers looked to Lloyd George for leadership at that moment but found none. Lord Morley felt with hindsight that the Cabinet would have collapsed that night if Lloyd George had given a lead to the waverers, and Harcourt appealed to the chancellor to ‘speak for us’. [11] To no avail. Lloyd George led the opponents of war into a cul-de-sac and left them there.

In Brussels that August evening, the German ambassador handed over the sealed letter that Moltke had earlier forwarded into his safe-keeping. [12] It stated that Germany had reliable information that France intended to attack her through Belgium and she would therefore be forced to enter Belgium in response. If Belgium did nothing to halt this invasion, Germany promised that, once the war was over and peace resumed, she would evacuate the territory, make good any damage done and pay for food used by her troops. However, if the movement of German troops was opposed, Germany regretted that she would have to regard Belgium as an enemy. The Belgians were given 12 hours to reply: that is by 7 a.m. on 3 August. [13] King Alfred of Belgium sent a message to Sir Edward Grey to confirm that Belgium would refuse the German request and appealed for British support. The telegram was timed to perfection for Grey’s vital speech in the House of Commons later that day. It provided ammunition to sway the Cabinet and Parliament. How could anyone of moral standing reject gallant little Belgium’s desperate plea for help? [14]

British troops mobilising in Birmingham

In the small hours of Monday, 3 August, with his Cabinet abed and blissfully ignorant of his intentions, Asquith quietly advanced all preparations for war. He wrote out the authorisation for mobilisation of the British Army. Lord Haldane personally delivered it to the War Office at eleven o’clock that morning and issued the very orders that he had prepared years before when he held the office of minister for war. [15] The first steps had actually started five days earlier, but the instructions had to be made official. The Secret Elite had, through its agents, authorised the general mobilisation of both the British navy and army without the knowledge or approval of the Cabinet or Parliament.

Later that warm bank holiday morning, ministers returned yet again to Downing Street. Just before Cabinet, Asquith met privately with the Conservative leaders Bonar Law and Lord Lansdowne. He advised them that if a critical number of Liberal ministers resigned, a coalition government would be the only way forward. He knew he could rely on their support for war since the Conservative leaders were fellow agents of the Secret Elite.

In Cabinet, Asquith announced the resignations of John Burns and Lord Morley, and the junior minister Charles Trevelyan. He asked if he should go to the king to offer his resignation or if coalition government might be the answer. It was essentially blackmail. He knew that the waverers were extremely reluctant to bring down the Liberal government at this critical juncture in Britain’s history. No further offers of resignation were tendered. The Cabinet broke up in some disarray. No vote had been taken on the critical issue of Britain going to war. It was such a clever ploy. By continually seeking a consensus, Asquith wore down his Cabinet critics and created the illusion of debate. Later, much later, another prime minister would substitute the myth of weapons of mass destruction for the myth of Belgian neutrality to the same shameful purpose.

1. Gerry Docherty and Jim Macgregor, Hidden History, The Secret Origins of the First World War, p. 103.
2. George Malcolm Thomson, The Twelve Days, p. 171.
3. Harry Elmer Barnes, Genesis of the World War, p. 515.
4. John Burns was a truly remarkable individual and the first working class
man to hold a government ministry. He resigned from Asquith’s
Cabinet in 1914, declaring the war to be a ‘universal crime ’.
5. David, Inside Asquith’s Cabinet, p. 180.
6. Asquith, Letters to Venetia Stanley, Sunday, 2 August 1914, p. 146.
7. Ibid.
8. Thomson, The Twelve Days, p. 173.
9. Docherty and Macgregor, Hidden History, The Secret Origins of the First World War, p. 103.
10. Richard F Hamilton and Holger H Herwig, Decisions for War, p. 143.
11. Niall Ferguson, Pity of War, p. 161.
12 Imanuel Geiss, July 1914, p. 231.
13. Sidney B Fay, Origins of the World War, vol. II, p. 541.
14. Barnes, Genesis of the World War, pp. 558–9.
15. Ibid. p.464.