The Norway Debate 75 Years Ago


The Norway Debate, which began May 7, 1940 was a significant debate in the British House of Commons. It caused Neville Chamberlain to resign, and he was succeeded as Prime Minister by Winston Churchill.

However, the real heroes of the Norway Debate were a group of rebels from the British conservative party, who for a long time had tried to fight the government’s reconciliation and compliance policy.

Neville Chamberlain by William Orpen,1929
Neville Chamberlain by William Orpen,1929

Harold Nicholson calls the Norway Debate “a pitiful speech only applauded by yes-people” in his “Diaries and Letters 1930-1964”.

The Norway Debate took place on May 7, 1940. Here are some extracts.

As the House of Commons began its historic debate on the conduct of the war in Norway, the British public were seeing the first Newsreel of British ships in action off Namsos and troops in Norway. The upbeat tone of the Newsreel was not replicated in Parliament where the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was severely criticized for his handling of the war.

Lieut-Colonel Leo Amery M.P, spoke for many when he said:

“The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister—[…] in a digression explained why he used a certain unlucky phrase about Hitler missing the bus. He explained that what he meant was that during these eight months of war Hitler had lost the opportunity which he had at the beginning of the war because we had been catching up on Germany’s preparations. Believe me, that is very far from the truth. While we may catch up on her presently if only we do what we ought to, there is no doubt that during these eight months, thanks to Germany’s flying start and our slowness off the mark, the gap between the German forces and ours has widened enormously as far as troops, their equipment, tanks, guns and all the paraphernalia of land war are concerned.”
Famously, he concluded his speech with:

“I have quoted certain words of Oliver Cromwell. I will quote certain other words. I do it with great reluctance, because I am speaking of those who are old friends and associates of mine, but they are words which, I think, are applicable to the present situation. This is what Cromwell said to the Long Parliament when he thought it was no longer fit to conduct the affairs of the nation: You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”

The full speech in Hansard

Caption feature image (on top)
British and French Commanders waiting to greet troops returning from Norway. General Sir Edmund Ironside, General Carton de Wiart, General Audet and General Mittelhauser

The Norway Debate 75 Years Ago, source: World War II Today