The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Toast to President Aylwin of Chile – 10 April 1991

Below is the text of Mr Major’s extended toast to President Aylwin of Chile on Wednesday 10th April 1991.


Mr. President,

May I extend a warm welcome to you, your wife and your daughter. We are delighted to have you, your Ministers and your colleagues as our guests tonight. Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal is no stranger to this house. But this is the first occasion that Norma and I have had to welcome her here and we do so with real pleasure. Her Royal Highness hopes to visit Chile later this year. That will be another high point in the development of our relations.

It is a privilege to welcome to Britain a South American President with British origins. A President who, moreover, has an “Englishman” as his Finance Minister (Sr Foxley – and we welcome him too this evening) and a “Scot” (Sr Hamilton) as his Minister of Mines. Perhaps, because we live in the Northern Hemisphere, I have a reverse arrangement in my Cabinet: a Scotsman as my Finance Minister and an Englishman as my Secretary of State for Energy.

But perhaps these links with Britain should come as no surprise when one recalls that the Republic of Chile’s Navy was founded by an English Lord. Lord Cocheran, and that the struggle for independence against Spain was led by an Irishman, the great Bernardo O’Higgins.
The President’s British ancestry is well established. While the preparations for this visit were being made, the researchers at the Royal College of Arms, with the help of the President’s family, traced the direct ancestors of the President back to the seventeenth century. This evening I gave the President a scroll showing that his family derives from a long line of Sussex yeomen from a beautiful area of our country round Midhurst. I believe the President will be having a look at the area, and perhaps meeting some very distant cousins when the official part of his programme is over.

Our research shows the family did not always enjoy good fortune. In the middle of the eighteenth century, Robert Aylwin, as a younger son, had to leave the land and become a tallow-chandler in London. His son Robert Patrick Aylwin was also a tallow-chandler in South London. But, again, times forced a change. His son, Richard Aylwin (under what pressures we do not know) made the tremendous decision to emigrate to Chile. He prospered there, very sensibly married a Chilean lady and became so well-established that Her Majesty’s Government appointed him Consul in the port of Constitucion.

But the challenges to the Aylwin family were not yet over. In the political troubles of the 1690s the emigrant’s son Ricardo Patricio Aylwin stood up for what he believed was right. He suffered imprisonment and financial ruin. All the more credit then to his son, the President’s father, that entirely by his own efforts, he should have risen from being a farm boy in his grandmother’s care to become President of the Supreme Court of Chile.

What pride, Sir, your yeoman ancestors from Sussex would take in these achievements. Pride, but not, I suspect surprise. But your achievements surpass even those of your forebears. And they are achievements which have given enormous satisfaction to all of Chile’s friends. To all who watched her suffering with anguish. And to all who have rejoiced in your return to democracy. And that is your achievement. You created the united opposition which led the Chilean people to say ‘No’ to military dictatorship.

You forged that voice of protest, made up of many disparate forces, into a potent political force. You led Chile peacefully back to democratic rule. And let me stress this: the peaceful return to power. In a world where dictatorship is, thank God, being cast aside the peaceful transition to democracy is a precious achievement. I pay tribute to the maturity of the Chilean people. I pay special tribute to the skill of President Aylwin and his supporters in bringing this about.

We in Britain were delighted when Chile returned to the democratic fold. As a sign of this we increased our help to Chile and have helped fund a programme to bring exiles back home. The good government policies we see currently in Latin America have led us to increase substantially our bilateral aid budget to the region as a whole.

Mr President, we welcome you here as we welcomed Chile’s return to democracy and the light of freedom. May I propose a toast to you, President and Mrs Aylwin, to the happiness and prosperity of all your people, and to the long-standing friendship between your country and ours.