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Last Updated: Monday, 4 February 2008, 00:27 GMT
Churchill quit date row revealed
Winston Churchill
Churchill wanted to go out on a high
Tension between Winston Churchill and his successor Anthony Eden in the former's final weeks as prime minister is revealed in newly released notes.

The papers, from the National Archives, show Eden confronted Churchill over the idea he might stay on longer in office despite having agreed to stand down.

The 1955 exchange, reminiscent of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's reported feud, was recorded by the cabinet secretary.

Sir Norman Brook's notes also cover Eden's tribute when Churchill did quit.

Eisenhower visit

The incident took place in March 1955, when the cabinet was discussing a forthcoming visit of US President Dwight Eisenhower to ratify an important treaty.

Churchill wanted to get the treaty signed before he left office but it was starting to look like President Eisenhower's visit would be later than expected.

Many of the Churchill and Eden's cabinet colleagues did not know of their secret handover deal but Eden said: "Are the PM's plans off if Eisenhower is likely to come to Europe later in summer?"

Churchill replied: "A new situation. I should have to consider my public duty."

To which Mr Eden retorted: "If I am not competent to meet Eisenhower then that would rule for all time."

If we do less well it is because we have failed to learn
Anthony Eden

Sir Norman's hand-written notes, which record details of cabinet meetings in a terse, abbreviated style, have been kept secret at the National Archive in Kew until now.

They cover Churchill's eventual decision to resign a month later, with the words: "Have decided to resign, audience [with the Queen] this pm at 4.30. Will be announced by BBC at 6pm."

Eden responded: "Colleagues asked me to speak for them all. Would be embarrassing for all to speak. Sense abiding affection and esteem and pride and privilege at being your colleague.

"Example you have shown us - if we do less well it is because we have failed to learn."

In a rare intrusion from the note-taker, the record ends with the line: "This, alas, was the end of the Churchill Era."

Immigration confusion

The notes also show debate on a topic still troubling politicians today - that of immigration.

Seemingly nonplussed by the arrival of large numbers looking for work and homes, the Tory ministers agreed action should be taken but were not sure of what form it should take.

They decided an inquiry was needed to thrash out the implications of what was happening but could not decide who should sit on the panel or give evidence.

There should be no hint of racial discrimination, one minister said, while another said: "Draft a bill and see what happens."

But no-one seemed to know what to legislate for or against and, meanwhile, the migrants set about filling gaps in the labour force.

While the political tensions mirror those of today, some of the topics discussed by the cabinet are clearly of another era.

These include discussion of the potential objections from church Sunday schools to plans to show television programmes between 3pm and 4pm on a Sunday and talk of a demand for legislation to control the growing trade in horror comics.

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