Unionist Free Food League

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Michael Hicks Beach (centre) with Arthur Balfour (left) and Joseph Chamberlain (right), by Sir Francis Carruthers Gould.

The Unionist Free Food League was a British pressure group formed on 13 July 1903 by Conservative and Liberal Unionist MPs who believed in free trade in order to campaign against Joseph Chamberlain's proposals for Tariff Reform, which would involve an import tax on food. About 40 Conservative and 20 Liberal Unionist MPs attended the initial meeting. Former Unionist Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Michael Hicks Beach became president of the group, replaced in October 1903 by the Liberal Unionist party leader Duke of Devonshire.[1]

Members included George Goschen, 1st Viscount Goschen, Hugh Cecil, Robert Cecil and Winston Churchill. Some like Churchill later defected to the Liberal Party. The Free Food League changed its name to the Unionist Free Trade Club in 1905.[2]

Whereas Chamberlain's Tariff Reform League was a grass-roots organisation which had captured 300 Unionist constituency associations by 1906, the Unionist Free Trade Club was little more than a parliamentary group and so was much less effective.[3] Unionist Free Traders were also unable to get any newspaper on their side, only the Conservative weekly magazine The Spectator supported their cause.

In 1906 after the 1906 General Election they were 16 Free Trade Unionists MPs left. Some like Hugh Cecil losing their seat to a split vote with a Tariff Reformer and both losing out to the Liberal candidate. By 1910 and following two more General Elections, the only survivor in the House of Commons was Hugh Cecil (returned for one of Oxford University seats with just a few adherents left in the House of Lords.


  1. ^ How not to run a political campaign: The Failure of the Unionist Free Traders. 1903-1906. Huw Clayton. Parliamentary History, Volume 30 Issue 2. June 2011.
  2. ^ The Conservatives:a History by Robin Harris. Published 2013
  3. ^ Robert Blake, The Conservative Party from Peel to Major (London: Arrow, 1998), p. 181.