2 November 1956
In the early hours of 2 November 1956, the U.N. General Assembly expressed ‘its grave concern’ that the ‘armed forces of France and the United Kingdom are conducting military operations against Egyptian territory,’ that ‘the armed forces of Israel have penetrated deeply into Egyptian territory’, and that as a consequence the shipping ‘through the Suez Canal is now interrupted to the serious prejudice of many nations.’ It called on ‘all parties’ to agree on an ‘immediate ceasefire.’1
The careful diplomatic language did not reflect the fury of most African and Asian delegates that Britain, France and Israel were using their overwhelming military power to force Egypt to abandon its earlier decision to nationalise the Suez Canal. The resolution, which was clearly aimed against Britain, France and Israel, was carried by 65 to 5 votes. The only five nations voting against the resolution were the three aggressor states and two Commonwealth nations, Australia and New Zealand, which were still highly dependent on Britain.
Even Canada, with its close Commonwealth links to London, felt obliged to abstain. Its Secretary of State for External Affairs, Lester Pearson, confessed ‘to a feeling of sadness, indeed even distress, at not being able to support the position taken by two countries (Britain and France) whose ties with my country are and will remain close and intimate… (and) which are Canada’s mother countries,’ adding that ‘we need action not only to end the fighting but to make the peace.’2 In the House of Commons a day earlier, Labour Deputy Leader, Jim Griffiths, had declared that ‘the government, by plunging the country into an unjustifiable and wicked war, has deeply outraged millions of people in the world and, we believe, the majority of our fellow citizens in Britain.’ He predicted that possibly two thirds of the United Nations General Assembly might vote against us and ‘brand our government, and far more important, our country, as an aggressor.’ ( In the actual vote, excluding a few abstentions, it was over ninety per cent of the delegates which voted against Britain. ) Glancing across the floor towards the seat where Winston Churchill was sitting, Griffiths added that he had been present when the honourable member opposite ‘described Britain’s finest hour.’ To cheers from fellow Socialist MPs, he continued ‘I feel that we have now had the deep humiliation and shame of being present at Britain’s worst hour.’3
- John Connell, The Most Important Country: The True Story of the Suez Crisis, Cassell and Company Ltd, London, 1957 pp. 206-207.
- Jim Griffiths MP cited in ‘It is not War Says Eden,’ The Western Mail, 2 November 1956, p. 3.
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