The Hoare–Laval Pact was a December 1935 proposal by British Foreign Secretary Samuel Hoare and French Prime Minister Pierre Laval for ending the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. Italy had wanted to seize the independent black nation of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) as part of its empire and also to avenge an 1896 humiliating defeat. The Pact offered to partition Abyssinia , and thus achieve Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's goal of making the independent nation of Abyssinia into an Italian colony. The proposal ignited a firestorm of hostile reaction in Britain and France, and never went into effect.
At that moment, both Britain and France were eager to have Italy rejoin the Stresa Front against Adolf Hitler's ambitions. Moreover, Mussolini wanted to end the Abyssinian war, due to the poor performance of his general, Marshall Emilio De Bono, and unexpectedly hard Abyssinian resistance. The agreement was negotiated by Dino Grandi, Italian ambassador in London, and Robert Vansittart, permanent undersecretary at the Foreign Office. Vansittart was concerned about British defence weaknesses, and its position in the Mediterranean, Egypt, and the Middle East. He feared Nazi Germany and wanted to curry favour with Mussolini.
Under the pact, Italy would gain the best parts of Ogaden and Tigray, and economic influence over all the southern part of Abyssinia. Abyssinia would have a guaranteed corridor to the sea (but a poor one, called a "corridor for camels") at the port of Assab.
Mussolini was ready to agree to this, but he waited some days to make his opinion public.
The Pact was met with a wave of moral indignation in Britain. On 10 December the Opposition Labour Party claimed if the reports in the press of the contents of the Pact were true, then the government were contradicting the pro-League policy they had just won the election on. The Conservatives dominated the government and cared little for opinion on the left. They paid attention however when attacks came from the right. In an editorial titled ‘A Corridor for Camels’, The Times on 16 December denounced the Pact and said there never was "the slightest doubt that British public opinion would recommend them for approval by the League as a fair and reasonable basis of negotiations". The Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang, condemned the Pact in a letter to The Times and many other bishops wrote directly to Baldwin opposing it.
But before the Duce had had time to declare himself there arose a howl of indignation from the people of Great Britain. During my experience of politics I have never witnessed so devastating a wave of public opinion. Even the easy-going constituents of the St. George's division were profoundly moved. My post-bag was full and the letters I received were not written by ignorant or emotional people but by responsible citizens who had given sober thought to the matter.
The Conservative Chief Whip told Baldwin: "Our men won't stand for it". Sir Austen Chamberlain in a speech to the Conservative Foreign Affairs Committee condemned the Pact and said: "Gentlemen do not behave in such a way". Harold Nicolson MP later wrote that he had had sleepless nights worrying whether he could keep his seat.
When the Chamber of Deputies debated the Pact on 27 and 28 December, the Popular Front condemned it, with Léon Blum telling Laval: "You have tried to give and to keep. You wanted to have your cake and eat it. You cancelled your words by your deeds and your deeds by your words. You have debased everything by fixing, intrigue and slickness...Not sensitive enough to the importance of great moral issues, you have reduced everything to the level of your petty methods". Yvon Delbos declared: "Your plan is dead and buried. From its failure, which is as total as possible, you could have – but you have not – drawn a personal conclusion. Two lessons emerge. The first is that you were in a dead end because you upset everyone without satisfying Italy. The second is that we must return to the spirit of the Covenant [of the League of Nations] by preserving agreement with the nations gathered at Geneva". Paul Reynaud attacked the government for aiding Hitler by ruining the Anglo-French alliance.
On the motion of censure, the French government had a majority of 296 votes to 276, with 37 radicals voting for the government.
Historians have differed over the significance of the pact. A. J. P. Taylor argued that it was the event that "killed the League [of Nations]" and that the pact "was a perfectly sensible plan, in line with the League's previous acts of conciliation from Corfu to Manchuria" which would have "ended the war; satisfied Italy; and left Abyssinia with a more workable, national territory" but that the "common sense of the plan was, in the circumstances of the time, its vital defect". The military historian Correlli Barnett has argued that if Britain alienated Italy, Italy "would be a potential enemy astride England's main line of imperial communication at a time when she was already under threat from two existing potential enemies at opposite ends of the line [Germany and Japan]. If – worse – Italy were to fight in a future war as an ally of Germany or Japan, or both, the British would be forced to abandon the Mediterranean for the first time since 1798". Therefore, in Barnett's view, it was "highly dangerous nonsense to provoke Italy" due to Britain's military and naval weakness and that therefore the pact was a sensible option.
- Keith Middlemas and John Barnes, Baldwin. A Biography (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969), pp. 887-889.
- Ernst L. Presseisen, "Foreign Policy and British Public Opinion: The Hoare-Laval Pact Of 1935," World Affairs Quarterly (1958) 29#3 pp 256-277.
- The Times (16 December 1935), p. 15.
- Middlemas and Barnes, p. 890.
- Duff Cooper, Old Men Forget (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1953), pp. 192-193.
- Middlemas and Barnes, p. 890.
- Harold Macmillan, Winds of Change (London: Macmillan, 1966), pp. 446-447.
- Macmillan, pp. 411-412.
- Geoffrey Warner, Pierre Laval and the Eclipse of France (New York: Macmillan, 1969), p. 126.
- Warner, p. 126.
- Warner, p. 126.
- Warner, p. 127.
- A. J. P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War (Penguin, 1991), p. 128.
- Correlli Barnett, The Collapse of British Power (Pan, 2002), pp. 352-3 and p. 356.
- Henderson B. Braddick," The Hoare-Laval Plan: A Study in International Politics," Review of Politics (1962) 24#3 pp. 342–364 in JSTOR
- Holt, Andrew. "'No more Hoares to Paris’: British foreign policymaking and the Abyssinian Crisis, 1935," Review of International Studies (2011) 37#3 pp 1383–1401
- Robertson James C. "The Hoare-Laval Plan," Journal of Contemporary History (1975) 10#3 pp. 433-464 in JSTOR