Submission by Department of External Affairs for Mr W.M. Hughes, Minister for External Affairs

24 February 1939


1. The question of the recognition of the Nationalist Government as the de jure government of Spain became of immediate importance after the fall of Barcelona. Before proceeding to formal recognition, however, the British and French Governments commenced negotiations with a view to bringing about the cessation of hostilities. In the course of these negotiations, the British Government recently received from the Spanish Republican Government a communication declaring its willingness to cease hostilities if General Franco would give assurances as to (a) the withdrawal of all foreign volunteers; (b) the absence of reprisals; and (c) the freedom of the Spanish people to choose the future regime. The British Government, having concluded that the early recognition of Franco’s Government was desirable, and that it should, if possible, follow the surrender of the Republican forces, instructed its Agent at Burgos [1] to communicate the wishes of the Republican Government to General Franco with a suggestion that the British Government was considering the question of full recognition and that this would be facilitated if Franco could take action to meet the wishes of the Republican Government. The British Agent was instructed also to inform Franco that a public statement by him that he would not permit anything in the way of unauthorised or general political reprisals would have a great effect on public opinion.

2. An announcement was subsequently handed by the Nationalist Ministry for Foreign Affairs to the British Agent postulating unconditional Republican surrender and maintaining that the motives of the Nationalist Government considered a firm guarantee for all Spaniards other than criminals [sic]. It was pointed out that all tribunals were restricted to dealing with criminals whose cases fell within the law promulgated before 1936. The announcement also declared that Spain would not accept foreign intervention calculated to impair its dignity and concluded with a statement that reprisals were alien to the National Government and that prolonged representations would only postpone the termination of hostilities and aggravate the responsibilities of Republican leaders.

3. In the meantime the French Government had stated that it favoured early de jure recognition of Franco’s Government but desired first to secure an assurance that certain requirements would be complied with. The British Government had informed the French Government that while it was in general agreement with these views, full recognition without conditions would be preferable.

4. The Commonwealth Government has now been informed in a telegram dated 22nd February [2] that the dispersal of the Spanish Government has made it impossible to obtain its formal assent to submission of its modified terms for surrender to General Franco. The British Government considers that the announcement mentioned in paragraph 3 above gives as much satisfaction regarding reprisals as can be hoped for and is strongly of the opinion that it affords the best opportunity for according recognition to Franco likely to occur for some time and one which should not be lost. The telegram added that the British Government intended to announce its recognition at the earliest possible moment and in any case, not later than February 24th, and that the French Government had been informed of these views and was being pressed to agree and make a simultaneous announcement. In a subsequent telegram (dated February 23rd) [3] it is stated that at the earnest request of the French Government the United Kingdom Government has agreed to defer the announcement until February 27th. The announcement will then include a statement of the intention to appoint an Ambassador.

5. In these circumstances, the question of recognition so far as the Commonwealth Government is concerned arises for consideration. If and when such recognition should be decided upon, the further question as to the form in which it should be effected becomes relevant. Although technically a recognition of Franco’s regime by the King would seem to imply a recognition by the whole of the British Empire, in point of fact in recent years formal recognitions have been effected on behalf of the self-governing Dominions in their own respective rights; in particular, the independent action by Eire in recognising the Italian conquest of Abyssinia before action by the United Kingdom may be mentioned. In the case of the change of Government in Spain in 1931 and again in the Abyssinian case, a separate notification of recognition was made on behalf of the Commonwealth Government. In the event of a decision by the Commonwealth Government to recognise the Government of General Franco, therefore, the appropriate procedure might be for a separate announcement or notification to be made on behalf of the Commonwealth either concurrently with that of the United Kingdom or subsequently.

6. On the other hand, if the Commonwealth Government so desired, recognition might be deferred until its necessity arose in a practical form, as for example, through the wish of the Nationalist Government to appoint consular representation in Australia. If no action is taken by the Commonwealth Government to recognise the Nationalist Government, however, a practical difficulty may arise over the present Spanish consular representatives in Australia, i.e., a Vice-Consul at Melbourne and at Perth respectively. They hold His Majesty’s Exequatur, and if the United Kingdom Government recognise General Franco on the 27th February, it will follow that in the United Kingdom consular representatives of the old regime will be no longer recognised, while they will presumably still have to be regarded in Australia as the representatives of a Spanish Government which no longer exists.

7. I would be glad of your views on the questions (a) that no action should be taken at the present time, and (b) that recognition is desirable on general political grounds, and that, for practical considerations, the United Kingdom Government be asked to notify General Franco to this effect at the same time as the United Kingdom communication.


1 Sir Robert Hodgson.

2 Circular cablegram B66 from U.K. Dominions Secretary, 22 February 1939, received 23 February 1939, not printed (on file AA: A816, 19/301/669).

3 Circular cablegram B68 from U.K. Dominions Secretary, 23 February 1939, received 24 February 1939, not printed (on file AA: A981, Spain 8).

4 In a personal letter to A.T. Stirling, the External Affairs Officer in London, J.D.L. Hood, head of the Political Section of the Department of External Affairs, said that the Minister, W.M. Hughes, had refused to present this submission to Cabinet, and when Cabinet decided to recognise Franco’s Government, Hughes refused to associate himself with the decision (see Hood to Stirling, P & C 2, On file PA: A2937, Mr J.D.L. Hood).


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