Gone for a fiver

Today is the last day the old paper five pound note featuring prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry, is legal tender in the UK. Its new plastic replacement, featuring Sir Winston Churchill (incidentally making UK folding money an all-male preserve, saving Her Majesty’s presence, of course), arrives at the exact same moment that the UK is pulling out of the European Union. So what?, you ask.

Well, listening last night to a lecture by Vernon Bogdanor on Churchill’s legacy, I was struck by his comments on Churchill’s support for the concept of a United States of Europe after the Second World War, as amplified in his Zurich Speech of 1946 and repeated when he won the Charlemagne Prize in 1956.

It is arguable whether Churchill saw the UK as a part of this united Europe or merely, to quote him, as a “friend and sponsor”, but Bogdanor argues compellingly that he did, although the UK did not join the EU’s precursor, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), in 1951 under his premiership — largely due to concerns about it’s potential for damaging existing links to the Commonwealth, the successor grouping to the British Empire so beloved of Churchill.

There is thus a certain poignant irony about the image of such an avowedly committed pro-European appearing on the new five pound note just as the UK prepares to exit stage left (or, more probably and worryingly, right) under another Conservative PM, Theresa May.

She, like Thatcher before her, almost certainly sees herself as his heir and professed to support the UK remaining in the EU during the referendum campaign. But whereas he never wavered in his pro-European conviction, and as a wartime leader (like him or not as a person) there was clearly a case of ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’, in her approach to Europe there appears to be more than a hint of opportunism.