The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1996Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech at Hampton Court – 15 May 1996

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech, with Jacques Chirac, held at Hampton Court near London on Wednesday 15th May 1996.


May I first welcome you all here this evening, but say above all what a particular pleasure it is to welcome the President, and Madame Chirac here to Hampton Court on this occasion.

We had this morning around two hours of talks, a press conference in Number 10, a fairly busy day for the President and it seemed a good opportunity to offer him a friendly change of scenery this evening.

Hampton Court has been, for most of its life, a royal palace. Cardinal Wolsey had a great deal to do with its foundation. He had, Mr President, the dubious distinction of leading one of Henry VIII’s first armies rather unsuccessfully I recall against France. And he began to build this in 1514. 12 years later, in a rather vain attempt to curry favour with Henry VIII, he gave it to the King, and without any vain intent to curry favour with Wolsey, the King accepted it.

It has had a very remarkable history. The game of real tennis was born here in Hampton Court, so was Edward VI. Queen Mary spent her honeymoon here, and so did Charles II. James I organised the conference here which led to the authorised version of the bible. And Charles I assembled many of the magnificent pictures that you see around you this evening and for his pains was imprisoned here after the Civil War. King William died after falling off his horse here. And Queen Anne enjoyed the hunting so much here that even when illness prevented her riding any more she had the parks drained and the parks levelled so that she could hunt by carriage. George I had a rather different quarry, Mr President, he brought his German mistresses here, but we don’t often mention that in polite company. George II was the last sovereign to reside here before Queen Victoria opened the palace to the public.

And yet throughout all that long history, of which the few words I have mentioned are but a small sample, the palace has had many connections with France, representing the intense interaction between our two countries over the centuries. The dates mean, very sadly, that Henry VIII left for France in 1520 to meet Francis I in the famous field of the Cloth of Gold, but not alas from here, despite the splendid portraits you see that record that famous event.

Of course the relationship between the United Kingdom and France is not just an historical relationship. It is, I think, Mr President, a living truth. And today Britain and France stand not just as two of the oldest sovereign states in Europe, though certainly as that, not just as two countries each with a proud record of national independence, though certainly of that, but also I think as global partners – both Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council, Europe’s only two nuclear powers, we share membership of the Group of Seven, of NATO, of the European Union, of the Western European Union and of many other bodies as well.

We have a trade and political relationship of great depth, one with another. We are each the other’s third largest biggest direct investors and third largest export market. About 10 – 12 million Britons cross the Channel every year to France. 875 British towns are twinned with France, and nearly one-third of those have been established within the last 10 years. And there is, of course, Mr President, a very high level of exchange between our young people and you and I were delighted to announce a further enhancement of that scheme today.

And we exchange culture as well, not just Cezanne in London for that astonishingly successful exhibition, but this year Henry Moore in Nantes, Frances Bacon at the Pompidou Centre, and a century of British sculpture in Paris. And I even noticed, perhaps at a slightly different level, that a Scottish lady will be singing for France in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, accompanied by a Welsh singer and an Irish piper – a modern manifestation I think of the old alliance.

A few of you may have noticed in the reception before dinner that we also exchange sportsmen. The new manager of the England football team – Glen Hoddle – who had a marvellous job, and I can’t understand why he should leave it as manager of my football team at Chelsea, but even though he neglected to win Chelsea a championship I look forward to him doing great things with the England team in the future and wish him the best of luck. He is very welcome here this evening. And he of course had a certain role in helping Monaco win the French championship. Chris Waddle of course went one better and helped Marseilles become the first French team to win the European Cup.

And I mention this, Mr President, because I know of your own footballing interest, Paris St Germain’s most ardent supporter in many ways, and I think very pleased at their recent victory in the final of the European Cup Winner’s Cup. It is not every football fan who can receive his team at the Elysee Palace to congratulate them upon their success. I only hope they look after you extraordinarily well when you are able to watch their home matches.

May I just touch on one other thing briefly? No evening in the United Kingdom at the moment would be entirely complete without some mention of beef. We are not serving you beef this evening. But I would like to take the opportunity of expressing my thanks to the President, and his colleagues in government, for their support over recent days and their very strong support in the progress that has been made in Brussels today. Some progress has been made today and I think there is every chance that will be carried a good deal further in the early part of next week, on Monday I hope of next week.

We will be working hard, with the support we have had from France and from a number of other countries in the European Union, in carrying forward the progressive lifting of the ban that at present exists on British beef. I think that is merited and I look forward to that happening as speedily as possible. But for this evening I just want to take the opportunity publicly of thanking the President for his support privately, and his support publicly, so aptly demonstrated in the discussions in Brussels earlier today.

And let me also add one other point. I would not wish to end this evening without paying a very genuine and heartfelt tribute to the President’s role in enhancing the relationship between France and the United Kingdom. I believe, as we meet here this evening, that it is as warm and as detailed, as friendly and as persuasive in all its aspects as it has been for very many years between our two countries. And a significant reason for that enhancement of our relationship is our guest this evening – the President of France – and I am most grateful to him for that.

The toasts come later this evening. So let me simply end at the outset by welcoming you Jacques, and you Bernadette, as our guests here this evening at Hampton Court. I welcome you very warmly indeed on behalf of the British government and the British nation. And let me simply say this. I look forward to welcoming you back here and elsewhere in the United Kingdom on many occasions in the future. You are tonight amongst friends and I hope that you will enjoy the evening.


Prime Minister, my dear John, dear Norma. When history in fact brought our two countries together in the past it was very often on the battlefield. And here, like in France, the remnants of the past carry the imprint of past rivalry. And on the windows of this magnificent hall we can see in the middle of Henry VIII’s Coat of Arms the proud French cry of [indistinct] which was in fact the war cry of the Kings of France when they went into battle, very often against you.

Now fortunately times have changed and there is a great feeling of solidarity which presides over the cooperation between our two countries, and it is that same feeling that is very present in my heart today when I am with you here, John, in this magnificent hall, in the middle of my State Visit to Britain.

Her Majesty The Queen expressed this with great talent when she said that it is true that we don’t drive on the same side of the road, but it is also true that we go in the same direction.

The very warm welcome that we have received in Great Britain, my wife and myself, I think bears witness to the very strong friendship that now bonds our two peoples together. The very gracious hospitality extended to us by Her Majesty The Queen, and our meeting with Her Majesty The Queen Mother, which I found extremely moving, and with members of the Royal Family, have in fact given us the most unforgettable moments which will remain engraved in our memories.

During my visit to Parliament, and during the numerous talks that I have had with political leaders and with yourself in particular, Prime Minister, I was able to measure how very much our views and our interests converge, and how very much we share the same ambitions, to build a Europe that should be dynamic and prosperous, respectful of national identities, and to build together a world that should be better, with more justice, more tolerance, more humane.

I met with the business leaders in the Guildhall and I noted the remarkable potential for innovation and development of British and French enterprises and how very successful they can be when they work together, which I very much encourage them to do.

These conversations, and the contacts I have had, have strengthened my conviction, which is that France and Great Britain, which are great powers, that both have considerable prestige and international influence, and a remarkable capital you might say of talent and know-how, these two countries must cooperate more together.

As Winston Churchill said, more or less, history has in fact forged between our two peoples unshakeable, unbreakable bonds that cannot be undone. We have fought together for many centuries. Now we must give each other as much support as we possibly can. And that, my dear John, is the frame of mind which is mine at present and I know that you share these feelings.

My dear John, we have known each other for a number of years and you have been good enough to give me your friendship, and I have done likewise. The affection – I think I can say – that exists between us, our affinities, are this deep attachment that we share for our cultures, our national traditions, all this gives a special dimension to our working relationships. And personally I quite honestly take great pleasure in this. It is very pleasant to be able to work with someone in this spirit of trust and friendship.

I think we should say perhaps something also about the subject that is unmentionable, or wasn’t to be mentioned today, in other words beef. But you have broken the tryst, my dear John, and the contract therefore, may I say simply that I am surprised that there is no fillet de boeuf on the menu.

And could I say that I very much hope that we will be able to strengthen something which is in the very nature of things, in other words a very strong bond of friendship between France and Great Britain.