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[ 51 ] CHAPTER THREE Jenkins and the withdrawal decision, 1968 For three years after coming to power, Wilson’s Labour government was committed to keeping the British informal empire in the Persian Gulf. They decided on withdrawing from Aden, Malaysia and Singapore, but little seemed to have changed on the Gulf front even after the devaluation in November 1967. While Downing Street hesitated, Sir William Luce published an article warning the government against a premature decision: It would be a mistake to lay down any specific period [for the withdrawal from the Persian Gulf] since there are many factors which could either hasten or delay progress; and certainly it should not be determined by any arbitrary or unilateral decision designed to effect a small saving in British defence costs or to satisfy opinion based on the artificial division of the world into east and west of Suez.1 In this article, which came out in July 1967, the British senior diplomat accepted that Britain might not be able to remain in the Gulf indefinitely , but he argued that the government should be careful not to decide to withdraw from the region for the wrong reasons nor with any explicit timeframe. Were these words of caution taken into account in the final stages of the process that led to the government’s decision to withdraw from the Gulf? This chapter examines this question in some detail, asking who exactly took the decision, for what reasons, on what terms, and within what timeframe. Jenkins, the Treasury and foreign policy As we have seen in Chapter 2, Harold Wilson took no personal initiative to remove the British troops from the Persian Gulf after he became Prime Minister. He was not against the British presence in the Gulf, either owing to his ideological beliefs or because of practical SATO 9780719099687 PRINT.indd 51 04/12/2015 08:53 BRITAIN AND THE FORMATION OF THE GULF STATES [ 52 ] calculations to secure American cooperation. His inner circle more or less shared his attitude. Although by July 1967 the OPD Official Committee had started considering withdrawal, the Cabinet did not take the issue seriously enough to discuss practicalities such as the timeframe or whether it should be preceded by an open announcement . The point, then, is just when the decision pertaining to these key issues was taken. Even with the heightening of economic pressure and subsequent devaluation, a minister of state at the Foreign Office visited the Gulf and assured ‘the Rulers that the British presence would continue as long as it is necessary to maintain peace and stability in the area’.2 Thus, the decision to leave the Gulf – arguably ‘the most momentous shift in our foreign policy for a century and a half’ as the then Cabinet minister later put it – did not originate from the usual guardians of foreign policy, i.e. the Prime Minister, the Secretaries of Defence or Foreign Affairs, or their offices.3 Instead, it was initiated by the Chancellor and the Treasury. Therefore, counterintuitive as it may sound, the main protagonist of the decision-making process was the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Roy Jenkins, backed up by Treasury officials. The overall process followed three steps. Firstly, there were the internal consultations within the Treasury involving Jenkins and his staff. Secondly, the Treasury brought the issue to the government to persuade the Prime Minister, the Foreign Office and the MOD. Then, thirdly, the British government as a whole took the issue to the foreign governments involved. Here, we will start from the first level. Roy Jenkins was born in 1920 into a Welsh trade-unionist and former mining family. Four years younger than Wilson, Jenkins had also studied at the University of Oxford. When Wilson formed his government in 1964, he nominated Jenkins Minister of Aviation, making him the youngest, albeit non-Cabinet, member of the government. The following year, he was promoted to Home Secretary, now becoming the youngest member of the Cabinet. Over the next three years, he initiated a number of social reforms, attempting to transform Britain into what he called a ‘civilised society’. Given Jenkins’s successful career as a politician, it was regarded as reasonable that Wilson should appoint him Chancellor of the Exchequer on 30 November 1967 after the devaluation turmoil.4 Despite somewhat similar career paths, the two politicians had contrasting views regarding Britain’s world role. Jenkins recalls that, unlike Wilson, he had been against ‘keeping Britain over-committed in the world’ long...


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