The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1995Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech at Dinner for President Clinton – 29 November 1995

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at a dinner for President Clinton, held at Downing Street in London on Wednesday 29th November 1995.


Mr. President, Hillary:

May I first, on behalf of all my Government and all the people of the United Kingdom, bid you the very warmest welcome here to Downing Street this evening and to the United Kingdom over the next few days. You are very welcome guests indeed.

This morning, Bill, I was one of many people privileged to hear a very memorable and a very witty speech to members of both Houses of Parliament. I think that would have made a profound impression upon the people who heard that speech. Running through it was a very detailed knowledge of our history a great deal of it of course shared with the United States and running through it also was a feel for Britain end her people that could only have been acquired in your many stays in the United Kingdom since a young man. It is a speech that frankly could only have been made by a longstanding friend of this country and it is in that guise that we welcome you here again this evening.

In that speech, you quoted Winston Churchill. Churchill made many of his finest speeches impromptu – or at least that is what was said – but his secret over time was of course rumbled. As one of his more sardonic rivals once put it: “Winston has devoted the best years of his life to preparing his impromptu speeches!”

Today, you mentioned Winston Churchill and you crowned your speech today with what I hope I may call a Churchillian gesture that will have a very lasting and beneficial effect in this country. I don’t believe you could have paid a finer tribute either to Sir Winston Churchill or to this country than in naming the new US Navy cruiser “The Winston Churchill”. It was a gesture that was very deeply appreciated and on behalf of everyone I would like to offer you my thanks for it. [Applause].

Even for someone who knows this country well, tomorrow you break fresh ground. Tomorrow, you will become the first serving President of the United States to visit Northern Ireland. You will find when you are there that you are visiting people to whom warmth and hospitality are second nature. I am delighted you are going there, I am delighted with the help and support that you have given our effort in the Northern Ireland peace process over recent years and especially pleased to welcome with you this evening George Mitchell who has done such a very great deal for Northern Ireland over the years and who has now taken on a very special responsibility and I am very grateful to him for doing so.

Over the past three years or so, I believe that working together the British and the Irish Governments have achieved a great deal, often against the odds, a great deal by working together with the invaluable help of the United States. What John Bruton and I are seeking to do is quite clear. It is to give fresh impetus to the search for a lasting political settlement in Northern Ireland. A ceasefire is very welcome, a lasting settlement would be much more welcome and would provide a change of life in Northern Ireland of a scale that even yet most people have not begun to imagine. we have had to take some risks in the cause of peace. I think that they are worthwhile risks to take. If I may borrow the words of one of your Democratic predecessors: “Let us never negotiate out of fear but let us never fear to negotiate!”

Mr. President, tomorrow you and Hillary and the rest of your team will see a Northern Ireland that is being transformed and I believe as you see that the very fact of your visit to Northern Ireland will be a huge encouragement to the people of Northern Ireland who daily are transforming it. I am very grateful to you for taking the opportunity of going there. [Applause].

Let me briefly mention one other common endeavour. The peace agreement on Bosnia hammered out in Dayton was a remarkable achievement; it was made possible by your leadership, by your detailed understanding of one of the more complex problems we have seen in Europe over many years and by the tenacity and stamina of Warren Christopher, Richard Holbrooke and their partners in seeing those talks to a successful conclusion.

It has taken three years in order to reach this point, three years in which aid workers, United Nations peacekeepers and diplomatic negotiators have risked their lives and some have given their lives, including your own envoys earlier this year. After such sacrifice, we must not allow Bosnia to slip back into war so it is the responsibility falling upon your shoulders and I think upon the shoulders of many other people as well, to ensure that the Dayton agreements can be turned into a lasting peace in Bosnia.

Mr. President, you joked this morning about the relationship between the United States and my country. My father was brought up in America as a boy and he taught me as I grew up that when the chips are down no two peoples have a better capacity to work together than the peoples of this island and of the United States. Today, in that remarkable speech you made in the House of Lords, you refreshed that relationship. I am delighted that you were able to do so, delighted that people can see the many fields of common endeavour in which the interests, the history and the natural instincts of the British and the American people march in the same direction.

Bill, in warmly welcoming you here this evening with Hillary, perhaps I may ask all my guests to join me and rise as I propose a toast to the President of the United States and Mrs. Hillary Clinton.


Prime Minister and Mrs. Major, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Let me begin by saying how very grateful Hillary and I are to be here personally and representing the people of the United States. This has been a fine opportunity for me to meet with the Prime Minister and representatives of Her Majesty’s Government to talk about our common interests, our shared values, our future agenda. It has also been a great opportunity for me personally to come back to this wonderful city which I love so much and where I have such warm memories.

Prime Minister, I want to thank you especially for welcoming here at your table my step-father. For a personal reason, my late mother would love to be here tonight and I miss her tonight especially because I tried in vain for 25 years to convince her that not every meal in London was steak and kidney pie or fish and chips!

I want to say to all of you that I meant every word of the speech I gave in Parliament today. We have a relationship that is enduring and very special. If I might paraphrase one of my very favourite British citizens – 007 – our relationship can never be stirred nor shaken, it will always be there, it will always be strong and now we have a special responsibility. We have all the unique opportunities that are apparent to us to make peace and to rake progress but it will not happen unless we work at it and it will not happen if we try to work at it alone. It will only happen if we work at it together.

On Northern Ireland, I thank the Prime Minister for what he said but the real thanks go to Prime Minister Major and to Prime Minister Bruton and his predecessor who were willing to take risks for peace. The United States supports those who take risks for peace. The risks may be political, we know they are severe. There is always a high risk of failure as I said in Parliament today and even if you fail, the people who wish you hadn’t tried will hold it against you. Sometimes the risks are far far greater, as the Prime Minister and I saw not so long when we buried our friend, Prime Minister Rabin but the work of peace is always important. Today it is imperative because we can achieve it in so many places where just a short while ago it was impossible.

The philosophy of the United States is simple and consistent. It runs in a seamless way from Northern Ireland to Bosnia to the Middle East. We will support those who take risks for peace. We will not attempt to tell people what peace they should make but only to urge on them the need to make peace at the soonest possible date in a fair, honourable and decent way.

I look forward to my trip in Northern Ireland and I look forward to doing whatever we can consistent with our policy and the willingness of the parties to move on the path of peace.

I would like to also thank the Prime Minister and again the British people for the sacrifices they have made in Bosnia over the course of that long and painful war, for the risks to your soldiers, for the extraordinary humanitarian aid, for all the nameless people who are alive today because of what Great Britain has done in that terrible and difficult conflict and I want to thank you anew for the very strong statement you made today in terms of the depth of commitment that you are prepared to make to implement this peace agreement. Together with our French and other allies, through NATO and with other nations who work in partnership with us, I believe we have a better than even chance to help bring peace to Bosnia because the parties made their peace at Dayton and the parties, if they will keep their minds straight and their hearts pure, can make the peace live in the lives of the people of Sarajevo and throughout the nation. These are the kinds of things we have to do. I believe that the best days for democracy and freedom are before us but only if we face our challenges and only if we face them together.

I brought only one note tonight I wanted to read because I don’t want to mix the words up. In one of history’s strange coincidental meetings Mark Twain appeared in New York city on a cold night in the year 1900 to introduce a lecture by a young adventurer and writer by the name of Winston Churchill. I am trying to remember, was it Rudyard Kipling who said: “Never the twain shall meet!”? [Laughter]. He was wrong. In the introduction, this is what Mark Twain said about the British and the Americans:

“We have always been kin, kin in blood, kin in religion, kin in representative government, kin in ideals, kin in just and lofty purposes.”
Mark Twain was not being humorous on that night. He was right then, he is right tonight and I ask you to join me in a toast to the Prime Minister and Mrs. Major and to the people of the wonderful nation of Great Britain. [Applause].