In all that follows, it is important that the reader fully understands that Sir Edward Grey’s statement to Parliament on 3 August 1914, and through Parliament and the press to the nation [1] was not a debate. The foreign secretary was not subjected to questions from MPs, nor asked to explain himself. Time and again he and his co-conspirators had promised that any British military commitments or naval agreements with France or Russia would require the official approval of the House of Commons. Everyone understood this to mean an informed debate in Parliament, followed by a vote.

Sir Edward Grey makes his Statement to the House of Commons

There was no debate. There was no vote. The Secret Elite and their agents did not seek democratic approval for anything they had previously engineered, and they did not seek parliamentary approval for taking Britain to war. By clever turn of phrase and repetitive lie, Grey deceived the House of Commons into believing that it ‘was free to make the most momentous decision in history’. [2]

The Conservative Party leaders, men deeply associated with the Secret Elite had been primed about the coming war, and hailed Grey’s presentation as statesman-like and noble. They talked of duty and loyalty, obligations and integrity. The many voices raised against this same speech, Liberal and Socialist voices, were drowned out by Secret Elite agents in Parliament, dismissed by most of the daily newspapers, and have been ignored since by most historians. It was not a great speech – Leo Amery mocked it as narrow and uninspiring [3] – but, nevertheless, it was of monumental importance. The House of Commons has rarely hung on the words of a secretary of state for foreign affairs with such studied attention.

Grey set the tone by announcing that peace in Europe ‘cannot be preserved’ [4] and he distanced himself and the Foreign Office from any previous involvement or collusion. His moral stance stemmed from a claim that ‘we have consistently worked with a single mind, with all the earnestness in our power, to preserve peace’. [5] Given his connivance with Isvolsky and Sazonov, Poincaré, the Committee of Imperial Defence, the secret agreements and understandings, and all of the diplomatic scheming that had encouraged the Austrians to make the demands on Serbia, that was a breathtaking lie. He accepted that Russia and Germany had declared war on each other, almost as if to say, what could be done about that? The implication that Britain, and British diplomats, had had nothing to do with these events was entirely false.

Grey had carefully rehearsed his speech with his Foreign Office minders before facing the Commons. He stressed that the House was ‘free to decide what the British attitude should be’ and promised to publish parliamentary evidence that would prove how ‘genuine and whole-hearted his efforts for peace were’. [6] When these were made available to Parliament at a later date, the diplomatic notes had been carefully selected and included three telegrams that had never actually been sent. [7] Worse still were the carefully amended versions: absolute proof of Foreign Office double-dealings. Sir Edward Grey admitted that ‘conversations’ had been going on for some time between British and French naval and military experts, but MPs did not realise that he had sanctioned these since 1906, without seeking permission of the Cabinet. He produced a letter from the French ambassador, Paul Cambon, which conveniently explained that whatever the disposition of the French and British fleets, they were not based on a commitment to cooperate in war. It was a downright lie, but MPs and the British people had to be misled. Much worse than that, he read out only part of a formal letter between his office and the French authorities, deliberately omitting the crucial final sentence: ‘If these measures involved action, the plans of the General Staffs would at once be taken into consideration and the governments would then decide what effect should be given to them.’[8]

Wison, Joffre and Huguet, the men involved in secret 'conversations'The plans of the general staffs? What plans? How did this come about? There would have been uproar amongst the Liberals, the Labour Party and Irish Home Rulers had Grey revealed that plans for joint military action had been agreed between the general staffs of both nations. All of the denials that had been made to Prince Lichnowsky and the kaiser would instantly have been unmasked Prime Minister Asquith’s previous statements in Parliament denying that secret agreements tied Britain to France in the event of a war with Germany would have been revealed as deliberate deceptions. [9] In his personal memoirs, published in 1925, Sir Edward Grey claimed that the charge of omitting the final sentence was not brought to his notice till 1923. He could only imagine that he had been interrupted when reading the letter or ‘perhaps I thought the last sentence unimportant, as it did not affect the sense or main purport of what had already been read out’. [10] Ridiculous. Truly and utterly ridiculous. That final sentence would have destroyed Grey’s speech and exposed years of secret preparation for war

Sir Edward Grey had long known that his entire argument would be predicated on Belgian neutrality. It had been absolutely vital that Belgium remained apart from the entente and did not seek membership, so that its neutrality could be construed as a sacred issue, a point of principle that necessitated British support when the time came. From 1906 onwards, Britain’s military link with Belgium was one of the most tightly guarded secrets, even within privileged circles. Documents found in the Department of Foreign Affairs in Brussels shortly after the war began proved Anglo-Belgian collusion at the highest levels, including the direct involvement of the Belgian foreign secretary, had been going on for years. [11] Like the ‘conversations’ with French military commanders, the Belgian ‘relationship’ was never put in writing or adopted as official policy by Britain, since that would have risked exposure to Parliament and the press. [12] Indeed, because Belgium’s behaviour violated the duties of a neutral state, the Secret Elite could not entertain any move to openly include them in the entente. That act alone would have put an end to neutrality and with it their best cause for war.

Professor Albert Geouffre de Lapradelle, the renowned French specialist on international law, explained: ‘The perpetually neutral state renounces the right to make war, and, in consequence, the right to contract alliances, even purely defensive ones, because they would drag it into a war …’ [13]

The American journalist and writer, Albert J. Nock, completely destroyed the lie of Belgian ‘neutrality’. In his words: “To pretend any longer that the Belgian government was surprised by the action of Germany, or unprepared to meet it; to picture Germany and Belgium as cat and mouse, to understand the position of Belgium otherwise than that she was one of four solid allies under definite agreement worked out in complete detail, is sheer absurdity.” [14]

And yet this absurd notion was used to take Britain into war and has been propagated ever since by British historians. Belgium posed as a neutral country in 1914 like a siren on the rocks, set there to lure Germany into a trap, whimpering a pretence of innocence.

Consider the whole charade of neutrality that the Secret Elite used to manipulate British foreign policy. No formula for British neutrality could ever square with the naval and military obligations that had been agreed directly with France, and more indirectly with Russia. There was no neutrality; it was another lie, a shameless posture to deceive Germany and bring about war. His trump card was his greatest lie, for Belgium was neutral only in name. The heavy veil of secrecy that had been drawn over Belgium’s preparations to side with Britain and France against Germany proved its worth. In a moment of time that caught the purpose of Grey’s dramatic delivery, this was his coup de théâtre. The stunning presentation of ‘neutral’ Belgium as the innocent victim of German aggression was biblical in its imagery and grotesque in its deceit. The Treaty of 1839, [15] which allegedly obliged Britain to defend Belgian neutrality, was dredged up as the reason for war. This despite repeated statements by Asquith and others which denied that there were any treaties or alliances which compelled Britain to go to war. [16]

King Albert of the Belgians

An emotional telegram from the King Albert of Belgium to his good friend King George V pleading for assistance was read to the crowded Commons. The fact that it had been delivered from Buckingham Palace hot foot to Grey, was intended as a signal to MPs from the king that the country had an obligation towards Belgium. Grey invoked emotional blackmail. If Belgian neutrality was abused by Germany, he asked, would Britain, endowed as it was with influence and power, ‘stand by and witness the perpetration of the direst crime that ever stained the pages of history, and thus become participators in the sin’? [17]

The ‘direst crime that ever stained the pages of history’? Had no one in the Foreign Office read Edith Durham’s account of the slaughter of thousands of innocents in the Balkans? Were the massacres in Albania, Serbia and Bulgaria of no consequence? Had Grey forgotten the atrocities in the Congo, where the Belgian king’s mercenaries slaughtered millions, outraging world opinion in 1908? [18] But then most of these people were black or Muslims or from other such ethnic groups, and therefore of little value in Secret Elite thinking. Sir Edward Grey’s hyperbole and melodramatic statements were truly worthy of ridicule, but his words were greeted with loud cheers from the jingoistic Conservatives on the opposition benches. [19]

He painted a picture of Europe in a state of collapse, stating that if Belgium fell, ‘the independence of Holland will follow … and then Denmark’.

Map showing Belgium's critical location between France and GermanyNeither happened. He was strident in his determination to present the case for war as inevitable. His claims became ever more excitable. The impact of going to war was described as such that ‘we shall suffer but little more than we shall suffer even if we stand aside’. Grey prophesied an end to foreign trade – a ridiculous assertion, given the power of the British navy and the spread of the British Empire. The Guardian later lambasted his lack of commercial knowledge and his ignorance of the workings of trade, [20] but he was pushing every alarm button, raising every fear, pandering to every prejudice.

Edward Grey’s double-speak lent him the appearance of a man of honour. In reality, his duplicity and sophistry aimed to take the nation to war. He could not contemplate Britain’s ‘unconditional neutrality’. Such action was bound to ‘sacrifice our respect and good name and reputation before the world, and should not escape the most serious and grave economic consequences’. His doom-laden statement promised suffering and misery ‘from which no country in Europe will escape and from which no abdication or neutrality will save us’. [21] He made great play of the notion that ‘the most awful responsibility is resting upon the government in deciding what to advise the House of Commons to do’.

Grey and Churchill - architects of war

The House of Commons was not being offered a choice; it was being advised that there was no choice. He sat down to a storm of cheering and acclaim from the Conservatives, part orchestrated, part genuine. The majority of Liberal MPs were stunned by what they had heard. Suddenly, without debate, consensus or warning, the government, their Liberal government, was on the brink of declaring war.

The secretary of state for foreign affairs left the House of Commons but his work was far from finished. He had, by his own admission, decisions to make.

Churchill caught up with him outside the Commons and asked what he intended to do next. Grey’s reply was stunning in its complicity but a masterstroke: ‘Now we will send them an ultimatum to stop the invasion of Belgium within 24 hours.’ [22] It was the condition to which he knew Germany could not now accede. Having set the nation to focus on Belgium, to make it the point of honour, Grey immediately proceeded to lure Germany into a position where it would appear that Britain had no alternative other than go to war. That was a certainty, for he knew the German army was already on its way through Belgium.

1. Statement by Sir Edward Grey, Hansard, House of Commons, Debate, 3 August 1914, vol. 65, cc1809–32.
2. E D Morel, Secret History of a Great Betrayal, p. 11.
3. Leo Amery, The Leo Amery Diaries, 1896–1929, vol. I, p. 106.
4. Statement by Sir Edward Grey, Hansard, House of Commons, 3 August 1914, vol. 65, cc1809–32.
5. Ibid. His fraudulence was to become the official British government position.
6. Statement by Sir Edward Grey, Hansard, House of Commons, 3 August 1914, vol. 65, cc1810. According to The Guardian of 4 July 1914, this promise was greeted by ministerial cheers.
7. Sidney B Fay, Origins of the World War, vol. I, pp. 14–15.
8. E D Morel, Secret History of a Great Betrayal, pp. 11–12.
9. Asquith in Hansard, House of Commons, Debate, 27 November 1911, vol. 32, cc106–107, and in Morel, Secret History of a Great Betrayal, p.16.
10. Grey of Fallodon, Twenty-Five Years, vol. II, pp. 218–19.
11. Anthony Arnoux, The European War, vol. 1, p. 270.
12. J.A. White, Transition to Global Rivalry, p. 181.
13. Alexander Fuehr, The Neutrality of Belgium, pp. 73–5.
14. Albert J. Knock, The Myth of a Guilty Nation, p. 37, ebook at http://library.mises.org/books/Albert%20Jay%20Nock/The%20Myth%20of%20a%20Guilty%20Nation.pdf
15. The Committee of Imperial Defence concluded in September 1905 that ‘Recent history shows . . . that the value of a collective guarantee of the neutrality and independence of a State must be largely discounted. Whatever may be the legal interpretation of the obligations involved in such a guarantee, nations usually act mainly in accordance with their real or supposed interests at the moment, and independently of their Treaty engagements.’ CAB 38/10/67, p. 7.
16. Morel, Secret History of a Great Betrayal, p. 16.
17. Statement by Sir Edward Grey, Hansard, House of Commons, 3 August 1914, vol. 65, cc1822–23.
18. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Crime of the Congo, 1908, is a noted work on this subject.
19. ‘A Fateful Sitting of the House of Commons’, The Guardian, 4 July 1914.
20. Ibid., p. 6.
21. Statement by Sir Edward Grey, Hansard, House of Commons, 3 August 1914, vol. 65, cc1823–24.
22. Winston Churchill, World Crisis, p. 178.