Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech signing Channel Fixed Link Treaty

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: The Chapter House, Canterbury Cathedral
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: MT spoke around 1525.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 2507
Themes: Industry, Environment, Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Transport

Prime Minister

François MitterrandMr. President, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I think there are some ordinary spectators here somewhere behind the press. Can I welcome you to what for us is a great occasion? You are about to witness the signature of the Channel Link Treaty which will be signed on behalf of France by M. Dumas, the Foreign Minister of France, and on behalf of the United Kingdom, by Sir Geoffrey Howe, our Foreign Secretary.

So I ask them both now to sign this historic treaty and then, when that has been complete and exchanged between the President and myself, the President and I will hope to have a few words with you.

So we will now witness the signing of this historic treaty. (signing ceremony) [end p1]

Prime Minister

François MitterrandMr. President, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

This is an historic occasion. Our meeting today and the signature of the Channel Fixed Link Treaty has brought to the brink of fruition a project that has challenged engineers, entrepreneurs and governments on both sides of the Channel for generations.

One could say that the first Channel Link Promoter was Napoleon Bonaparte. His engineers presented him, in 1802, with a plan involving two tunnels, a mid-channel artificial island, a paved roadway, ventilation shafts and oil lamps. This particular project, for reasons which are not entirely clear, did not enjoy the wholehearted support of the British Government. Indeed, I understand that there was some relief on their part when it was abandoned!

An illustrious predecessor of mine was also a Channel Link supporter. Sir Winston Churchill, when he was First Lord of the Admiralty in 1914, wrote a paper indicating his support for a Channel tunnel, but only provided it came to surface half a mile from the English coast. He insisted that the remaining distance be covered by a bridge with a drawbridge in one of the spans. In times of tension, the lifting of the drawbridge, coupled with a warning to suspend traffic, would afford a time for complete security.

Times change and I shall not be asking the representatives of the Channel Tunnel Group and France Manche who are here today to include a similar device in their plans! [end p2]

Mr. President, I hope that after all these years the link will at last be built and that it will change the lives of people on both sides of the Channel.

When we met last month, on that magnificent day in Lille, attention was understandably focussed on the benefits the Link will bring to the people of Northern France. As we meet today, in this ancient city of Canterbury, in the very heart of the region of Britain most directly affected by the Link, I should like to address a few words to the people of Kent.

Many of you are concerned about the consequences the Link will have for the local environment and for employment in the area. Let me assure you the Government is alive to your concerns. Environmental impact is one of the factors which we took particularly into account in our selection of the Channel Tunnel Group Scheme, and we shall ensure that everything possible is done to mitigate the environmental consequences.

We are also determined to do whatever is necessary to improve the local road network, so that there can be rapid and uncongested access to the Link. We shall, for instance, look sympathetically at proposals for such help from the Kent County Council, and we shall ensure that there is the fullest consultation between the Government and Local Authorities.

I would urge the people of Kent, a number of whose elected representatives are in the audience today, to treat the Link as an opportunity; an opportunity that will bring long-term and lasting benefits—tourism, industry and jobs—to the region and to the United Kingdom as a whole. [end p3]

Mr. President, the Chapter House in which we now meet was once part of a great Benedictine monastery, revived and reorganised in the 11th century by Archbishop Lanfranc, the first and greatest of the Norman Archbishops of Canterbury.

Much of the work on the Cathedral, which you have just seen, was carried out by another Frenchman, William of Sens the most talented architect of his age.

The Cathedral itself was built of stone brought from France, from Caen in Normandy, and is to this day regularly restored with French stone.

Our surroundings are thus rich in associations with France, stretching back over centuries. What more fitting place could there be to sign this treaty, which takes those associations forward into the 21st Century?

(Now speaks in French—simultaneous translation follows).

This treaty is an important event, not only for relations between our two countries, but also for the whole of Europe, and will open up a new chapter in industrial cooperation between France and Great Britain, based on private enterprise and the competence of our heads of industry and businesses, and this will also give a unique opportunity to our businessmen and finance in order to show what they can do. This endeavour will create jobs in the building industry and will stimulate the achievements and, what is perhaps the most important thing, this will in a way bear witness to the spirit of enterprise and invention of our own generation, and this will in fact demonstrate that we can be as bold as our predecessors when required to do so and [end p4] this will encourage our successors to effort and creativity.

Mr. President, may I invite you now to be kind enough to speak. (applause). [end p5]

President Mitterrand (simultaneous translation)

Prime Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Quite recently, I had the honour of receiving you in Lille, Prime Minister, and several members of the British Government, and also the people who were responsible for the project, in order to celebrate the event. We were in fact confirming our agreement, but as is required in civilised societies, a further ceremony was required—the official signature of a treaty—which is what we are doing here today.

Mrs. Thatcher was kind enough to recall the wonderful day we had, the sunny day we had, in Lille, and one felt in the population of Lille and of course in our midst, we felt that there was a sort of joy of living, a great satisfaction of having been able to achieve finally a project that is a very long-standing one, as we know, and I was very happy to respond to the invitation extended to me to come here and make a significant trip. It is a second way of really demonstrating the fact that the Fixed Link is now with us, and this is one of the particularly pleasant duties, to be here in Canterbury, in this place which is so very much marked by history. History, of course, is something that the British and the French have a very great respect for, particularly our common history. A moment ago, we were visiting the Cathedral and we saw many traces of our own history of France here in Canterbury, so very closely intermingled would be the history of Great Britain through the actions of a certain number of great men who have marked our history and your history, and as you have just mentioned, the architect of the stone used for the Cathedral and the original [end p6] architect, shows that the sources of our aesthetic expression, those sources are in fact the same. We find our inspiration in the same roots of the same civilisation. Quiet rivers sometimes flow into different seas, but they are of the same water nevertheless, and we here today, we I think, indicate by this ceremony in this Chapter House, which itself is a very beautiful and significant place, and I want to thank you very much for having made such an excellent choice, Madam Prime Minister.

I would also like to say, in terms that are very similar to yours, Prime Minister, how I feel, because in fact our feelings are so very much the same, at a time which is an important moment, but I want to express the very deep significance that my country attaches to this event, this event that we are a party here to today.

This treaty which our Ministers of Foreign Affairs have just signed is first of all an act of will, determination, on the part of two governments, for the present and for the future. ‘Where there is a will there is a way’ is an English saying, and I think that there are few sayings that are so apt in the present circumstances, because we see the will, the determination, of our governments, of the heads of businesses, the companies, the people who initiated the various projects; all those who have worked to ensure that everything would be ready for the end of October, and that was a tremendous job. And so much imagination was required, so much inventiveness and so much accuracy was needed. And at the same time, there was the determination, the [end p7] will, of the diplomats, the experts, the engineers, people who on both sides of the Channel analysed the applications and determined to what extent the various proposals corresponded to the conditions which we had worked out and finally they proposed a choice and that spread to the treaty that has just been signed; and all this is a very great ceremony that is leading us to a very great endeavour, a very great enterprise, because we are going to add a very powerful means of communication between our two countries and it is in fact part of European infrastructure which we are about to build, and so in the next seven years there will be great changes because of all this, and this is an additional feature which will add speed, reliability and safety to communication.

Now this, as you have just said, is something that people have been talking about for ages. This tunnel is now at last going to be started, but this, as I was saying a moment ago, because what was required was strength, determination and perserverence, and when Great Britain and France really decide to work together in order to tap their tremendous human and material resources, then very great things can be achieved, and I think that here there is a model—we have a model of something that should have yet wider applications.

I think one can say without exaggeration that this treaty is a milestone. It is an important milestone in the history of our two peoples. It is a history which we have very present in our minds. As I was saying, perhaps sometimes it is too present, too much present in our mind, because when you look at [end p8] our respective compatriots, they are very loyal to their national heroes and they seem to think more often of periods of strife than the hours of entente cordiale. It is an interesting point to note. I have just seen the tomb of the brother of Admiral Coligny who had to escape from France and who died I think in Westminster, but who wanted to be buried here, and so he was buried here, and the person who was showing me round the Cathedral pointed out to me that on one of the pillars there was a painting that represented—this was a surprise to me—Joan of Arc—a painting of Joan of Arc in Canterbury Cathedral—so this shows that with the passing of time, people who are enemies gradually learn to understand and appreciate their qualities and what is good on the other side.

Well, that is the kind of history that we must continue building and quite recently, with my friends here, we were in Manston, a small Air Force station where we were welcomed, and for those of us who lived through the Second World War, Manston is a very meaningful place. It is a very significant place. It is a symbol of our joint victorious struggle during the Second World War, particularly at a time when one can say that the fate of the War, and therefore the fate of our freedom, depended on the capacity for resistance of the British people, and that is something I have never forgotten. I am not alone in that, but I personally have never forgotten that.

Well Canterbury, as everyone knows, represents centuries of ties of all nature and here I think we can find at the same time the genius of England. Yes, even if it is French stone. [end p9] Even if the first architect was French. But all in all, this is English architecture, and so that proves that two can use the same material, but at the same time, the mind of man can adapt itself to the territory, to the land, of the form of culture.

A moment ago I said that two million visitors come here each year. Visitors who come here, pilgrims to some extent too and many think of Thomas A-Beckett. It is natural, because after all, that murder affected peoples' imagination and has stretched to a lot of literature. It was an important moment in history. Our own playwrights have written plays on the subject, and a long list of events have in fact marked our intermingled history and the schoolchildren whom we saw a moment ago, their school being set up in the 17th century I understand by Henry VIII. Well I hope presumably there have been other attempts to modernise the place since then, but basically we have a very strong tradition there and one can find the mark of time and one has to be sensitive to the mark of time. You must not cheat with time. You must not lie to time.

So schoolchildren, English schoolchildren and French schoolchildren, in the 20th century, in the long list of events in our mutual history, will have to add another event, the signature of the Treaty of Canterbury on 12 February 1986, today. And they will then very easily be able to move from one side of the Channel to the other and they will consider that to be a very normal thing and when they are told about the situation now they will find the situation very strange and they will say: “Well, why did they wait for so long to build this tunnel? [end p10] When you think that at the same time this fixed link will serve the cause of Europe!” So what is happening in your country, what is happening in France, is never insignificant, is never without meaning for the future of Europe. We must not be vain enough to think that everything that is European begins with us. No, but a lot of things do! And once our two countries agree, then no-one can pretend to ignore the fact. Everyone has to take that into account and we are deeply attached to this. You are deeply attached to Europe too and there is no going back on this, and this is the first stone perhaps. It is a French expression. The first stone has been laid. I do not know if it is a stone, but there will come a time soon when the cross-Channel Fixed Link will be part of the geological scenery of our planet and I personally think that this is very important and I want to thank you, Madam Prime Minister, for the efforts that you have made in order to bring this project to fruition. Your role has been decisive in this and I wish to thank also the Ministers, the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, the Secretary of the Foreign Office; also the specialised Ministers who have extremely well followed the intricacies of the whole problem and, Madame, at the same time my thoughts are very much for the United Kingdom and I wish to express the best wishes which we can express for the United Kingdom and I want to say at the same time how very much, in the name of France, this hospitality is close to our hearts (applause). [end p11]

Prime Minister

Well now, Ladies and Gentlemen, that concludes the proceedings. Can I just, on your behalf, express our great appreciation to the François MitterrandPresident, that he has come here today to sign this treaty and hope that it will not be many years before we are not only signing treaties, but making the first journey through the Channel tunnel together. Thank you very much. (applause)