HC Deb 27 January 1947 vol 432 cc616-20
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Ernest Bevin)

I have been informed by the Egyptian Government that they have broken off negotiations for a revision of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936. The House will be aware that when the Egyptian Government requested His Majesty's Government to enter into negotiations for the revision of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, His Majesty's Government although they were not bound to do so by the terms of the Treaty, willingly acceded to that request.

In May last, His Majesty's Government proposed the withdrawal of all British forces from Egypt, and to settle by negotiation the stages of the evacuation and arrangements for mutual defence to take the place of those embodied in the 1936 Treaty, at the same time making it clear that in default of the negotiation of a new treaty, the provisions of the Treaty of 1936 would stand. Negotiations in Cairo proceeded slowly, until finally, in the middle of October, the then Egyptian Prime Minister visited this country in an endeavour to settle the major differences which had hitherto stood in the way of agreement. These differences were concerned, first of all, with the obligations of the respective parties in the event of their being the object of attack, or in the event of a threat of war developing in the region of the Middle East: the period within which the withdrawal of British forces and installations from Egypt should be completed, and the question of the Sudan. As a result of the conversations which I had with Sidky Pasha, we were able to reach, on a personal basis and subject to the approval of our respective constitutional organs, full agreement on the texts of a treaty of mutual assistance, an evacuation protocol, and a Sudan protocol. Sidky Pasha undertook to recommend the texts to his Government, and I, for my part, undertook to recommend them to the Cabinet, if they were endorsed and put forward to me officially by Egypt.

Of the questions in dispute, by far the most difficult was that of the Sudan. My own position in the matter was that I had given a pledge in this House, on 26th March last, that no change should be made in the status of the Sudan as a result of treaty revision until the Sudanese had been consulted through constitutional channels. After taking, however, the highest legal advice, I felt that for the sake of an agreement, which would have been as much in the interests of the Sudanese as of either of the other parties, I should be justified in alluding in the Sudan Protocol to the existence of a symbolic dynastic union between Egypt and the Sudan, provided always that no change was introduced into the existing system of administration, whereby the Sudan is administered by the Governor-General under the powers conferred on him by the 1899 Agreements, as confirmed and interpreted by the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936; and provided that no change took place in the arrangements under which the defence of the Sudan is, assured. The text agreed upon by Sidky Pasha and myself on the above basis read as follows: The policy which the High Contracting Parties undertake to follow in the Sudan, within the framework of the unity between the Sudan and Egypt under the common Crown of Egypt, will have for its essential objectives to assure the well-being of the Sudanese, the development of their interests and their active preparation for self-government, and consequently the exercise of the right to choose the future status of the Sudan. Until the High Contracting Parties can, in full common agreement, realise this latter objective, after consultation with the Sudanese, the Agreement of 1899 will continue and Article 11 of the Treaty of 1936, together with its Annex and paragraphs 14 to 16 of the agreed minute annexed to the same Treaty, will remain in force notwithstanding the first Article of the present Treaty. I would draw particular attention to the right assured to the Sudanese by this text to choose the future status of the Sudan. In the course of our discussions, this point came up more than once. I for my part, made it clear that nothing must be done, and that I must be able to assure the British people that nothing was being done, to prejudice the right of the Sudanese after they had attained self-government ultimately to exercise their choice—a development which it would take some time to realise. Sidky Pasha subscribed to the view that nothing on paper could prejudice the right of independence, nor could it bind a people in search of liberty. This, as His Excellency admitted, was a universal principle, and not a matte; for incorporation in a Treaty. I assumed therefore, and I had good reason to assume, that agreement existed between us that the Sudanese; when the time came for them to make the choice of their future status, would not be debarred from choosing complete independence, just as they would be free to choose some form of association with Egypt, or even complete union with Egypt

Scarcely, however, had Sidky Pasha left this country than reports appeared, and appeared without contradiction, that His Majesty's Government had conceded the unity of Egypt and the Sudan without the ultimate right of self-determination. This publication gave rise to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's statement on 28th October, 1946. It was succeeded by other disclosures, and, at later dates, by official utterances, which made it clear that in Egyptian eyes the political evolution of the Sudanese must stop short at self-government under the Egyptian Crown, and that the status of independence for the Sudan was unthinkable. Nokrashi Pasha, in fact, on assuming office stated in the Chamber of Deputies that: When I say unity of Egypt and the Sudan under the Egyptian Crown, I mean a permanent unity. The first effect of these statements was to create a situation of extreme tension in the Sudan, where the numerically powerful parties favouring independence accused His Majesty's Government most bitterly of breaking their pledge and of selling them to Egypt. Some rioting took place, but Sir Hubert Huddleston, the Governor-General, thanks to his great influence and to the confidence which he inspires in the Sudan, has been able to allay Sudanese anxiety, to restore confidence in the administration, and to persuade the Sudanese independence groups, who had declared a political boycott, again to collaborate with the organs of the Sudan Government instituted to promote the association of the Sudanese with the administration. The Governor-General has been the subject of bitter criticism in Egypt, which I deplore and which I regard as unjustified.

But this clearly did not, by itself, go far enough. I could not, after what had passed, recommend the Sudan protocol to the Cabinet and to Parliament without securing an agreed interpretation of its terms, which would not run counter to what the people of this country regard as the natural order of things, viz., that peoples having achieved self-government shall have the, ultimate right to self-determination, including a right to independence if they want it. I regret that all my efforts have failed to reach anything in the nature of an agreed interpretation, whether in the form of an exchange of letters, or of agreed statements to be made by the spokesmen of both sides, or even of agreed statements in which the difference separating the parties would be honestly declared in the hope that it could be composed later, since the question at issue cannot become a live one for at least some years. I offered in addition, if any of these proposals were adopted, myself to make a public statement to reassure Egypt as regards the aims of British policy in the Sudan. I have offered every guarantee for the safeguard of Egyptian interests in the Sudan—for no one realises more clearly than His Majesty's Government how vital, for instance, is Egyptian interest in the waters of the Nile—I have offered to sign the treaty of mutual assistance and the evacuation protocol, and thus realise one of Egypt's most eager aspirations—and to discuss the Sudan question de novoat a conference with ourselves, the Egyptians and the Sudanese. To all these proposals I have received either an uncompromising negative, or proposals which would involve my reentering negotiations committed to the thesis that the right of the Sudanese to self-determination must be subject to permanent union between Egypt and the Sudan. I have even found myself accused of pursuing a policy of endeavouring to filch the Sudan from Egypt.

My hope is that broader and less stubborn counsels may come to prevail in Cairo, for it is evident that the interests of both countries, call for a fresh treaty, and would justify a further effort to reach agreement so as to enable the two countries to co-operate for their mutual interest and defence. It is unfortunate that in the negotiations His Majesty's Government have had to deal with a minority Government. I stated to this House that the question of the Government was a matter for the Egyptians themselves. If, however, we can deal with a more fully representative Egyptian Government, and if our negotiations can thereby avoid being the subject of Egyptian party politics, there will be a much better chance of carrying them through to a successful conclusion in the right spirit. Meanwhile, the Treaty of 1936 will be adhered to.

Mr. Churchill

Is there any reason to doubt that the Treaty of 1936 is a solemn and valid international instrument?

Mr. Bevin

There is nothing to doubt. There are certain rights of revision after 10 years, and the Egyptians were quite within their rights in asking for that revision, and there is a special procedure set forth for it to be dealt with.