Empire into Commonwealth — The Irish Anomaly

  • Max Beloff


When during the Imperial Conference of 1921 it was announced that there had been an agreement for a truce in the fighting in Ireland to enable negotiations to begin, Beatrice Webb commented in her diary: ‘It is a blow to the government of Great Britain that it is the premier of South Africa, backed up by those of Australia and Canada and the foreign power of the U.S.A. to whom Ireland will owe her liberty of self-government, a sign that power to rule is passing from England to other English-speaking communities.’1 It was of course true that power had shifted across the Atlantic but, with the growing isolationism of the United States, the direct impact of its government on British policy-making in the sphere of imperial relations was not for a long time to be of major importance. The role of the Dominions was a different matter. The war had given rise to feelings of similarity of purpose and readiness to co-operate which were already beginning to look somewhat overblown. It was one thing to seek security within a system dominated by the Royal Navy or to ask for preferential treatment in London’s commodity or financial markets or to look to Britain in the first instance if immigrants were required. What the Dominion governments would not do was to sacrifice what they perceived to be vital national interests or affront national sentiment at home for the sake of a wider whole. And by 1921 it was already clear that no constitutional changes were envisaged by any of them that would shift the locus of decision-making to London; though they might differ as to the extent to which they wished their own voice to be heard before London came to its decisions.2


Prime Minister Foreign Policy Foreign Affair British Government High Commissioner 
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© Max Beloff 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Max Beloff
    • 1
  1. 1.University of OxfordUK

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