Memorandum of Conversation, by the Under Secretary of State (Welles)
The British Ambassador called to see me this morning at his request.
I told the Ambassador of the very deep disappointment which I had experienced as a result of reading the contents of Ambassador Winant’s telegram no. 565 of February 6, 10 p.m. Lord Halifax said he had received a message in a similar sense. The Ambassador argued for a considerable time that this message should be regarded as entirely satisfactory. He said that, after all, the draft sent from London was really all right although on the face of it it seemed to be all wrong. The gist of his long exposition was that the British reply had to be of this nature because of Mr. Churchill’s unwillingness to alienate any part of his Conservative strength in the House of Commons and, second, that since public opinion in both Great Britain and the United States at the end of the war would be overwhelmingly in favor of a liberal trade policy it was perfectly safe for us now to agree that the British Government might merely say that “before accepting any definite commitment involving modification of the existing system of imperial preference the Government of the United Kingdom would naturally require to consult with the Governments of the Dominions.”
I asked the Ambassador if the Dominions could be consulted at the end of the war why could they not be consulted now. The Ambassador replied that unofficially he understood the Dominions had already been consulted and had given a favorable answer. I then asked, if that was the case, why could this not be officially stated by the British Government and thus solve the difficulty. The Ambassador went [Page 533]back to his earlier point that if this were done Mr. Churchill would have difficulties with Conservative followers in the House of Commons.
The Ambassador gave me very definitely the impression that he was attempting to argue against his own better judgment. I said that in as much as he was planning to see Mr. Acheson about this matter during the course of the day I would say no more beyond emphasizing the fact that this issue was fast becoming a very serious issue and that I feared the British did not realize how serious an issue it really was.