317 Cabinet Submission by Mr W. M. Hughes, Minister for External Affairs

15 November 1938


1. It will be recalled that a memorandum dated 25th October [1], was submitted to Cabinet concerning the proposed implementation of the Anglo-Italian Agreement by the United Kingdom Government. It was pointed out in the memorandum that the implementation of the Agreement would involve the de jure recognition by the United Kingdom of the Italian conquest of Abyssinia, and that, presumably, it would then be necessary for the Commonwealth Government to indicate its own attitude in regard to de jure recognition. Annex 'B' [2] to the memorandum (copy of which is attached) dealt with the question whether on constitutional grounds the Commonwealth Government should take separate action from the United Kingdom Government in according de jure recognition.

2. On 26th October, the Prime Minister despatched the following telegram to the United Kingdom Government:-

'Commonwealth Government strongly of opinion that, is a contribution to peace, Anglo-Italian agreement should be brought into operation forthwith and de jure recognition accorded to Italian Empire in Abyssinia. Italian withdrawal of 10,000 troops from Spain seems a real contribution and in present condition of world, a peaceful and friendly Mediterranean is in our opinion essential. To refuse de jure recognition seems to us to ignore the facts and to risk danger for a matter which is now immaterial.' [3]

A reply dated 27th October, was received from the British Prime Minister in the following terms:-

'I am very grateful for your message. You will have seen from telegram Circular B.396 of October 26th [4] that the United Kingdom Government are entirely in accord with the views of the Commonwealth Government and that we have decided to take immediate steps with a view to bringing the agreement into force. The question will be brought before Parliament when it reassembles.


3. A motion welcoming the intention of the United Kingdom Government to bring the Anglo-Italian Agreement into force was agreed to by the British Parliament on 4th November.

4. The following telegram has now been received from the United Kingdom Government:-

'My Circular B.399 of 26th Octobers: It has now been arranged that His Majesty's Ambassador at Rome will at 11 a.m. on the 16th November communicate to Count Ciano [7] new letters of credence accrediting him to the King of Italy, Emperor of Ethiopia. A declaration recording the entry into force of the Anglo-Italian Agreement of 16th April last will be signed by Lord Perth and Count Ciano the same cvcning.' [8]

5. So far as it is known the attitude of the other parts of the British Commonwealth of Nations to de jure recognition of the Italian conquest may be summarised as follows:-

Eire: On 14th December, 1937, the Prime Minister, Mr de Valera, announced that it was intended to appoint a Minister to Italy who would have his credentials addressed to the 'King of Italy and Emperor of Ethiopia.' When asked whether the use of this title involved the recognition of the annexation of Abyssinia, Mr de Valera said, 'No. It simply recognises the name taken by the Sovereign by which he is to be recognised according to the general courtesy and comity of nations.' Subsequently Mr de Valera said, 'Whatever may be the decision in regard to the de facto side of the question, there is no question here of a de jure recognition.' South Africa: A press report of the 11th November, stated that the South African Minister to Rome, Dr G. M. A. Heymans, had informed the Italian Foreign Minister, Count Ciano, that the Union of South Africa was now recognising the Italian conquest of Abyssinia.

New Zealand: No definite information has been received as to the present attitude of the New Zealand Government to de jure recognition, but it would appear from the strong attitude taken up by the New Zealand delegate at the sittings of the-League Council last May that New Zealand will not be prepared for the time being to accord de jure recognition.

6. As appears from copy of Annex 'B' (which is attached), when the question of the Italian conquest of Abyssinia was considered by the League Council in May, no formal resolution was adopted but, after lengthy discussion, the President of the Council [9] observed that a large majority of the Members of the Council were clearly in favour of each individual State deciding for itself in the light of its own situation the question of recognition of the Italian conquest of Abyssinia.

7. If it is considered that the Commonwealth Government should take positive steps to accord de jure recognition, the subjoined draft telegram for despatch to the Secretary of State for the Dominions requesting that separate action be taken on behalf of the Commonwealth Government to accord de jure recognition is submitted for consideration:

'Reference your telegram No. 109. [10] His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth of Australia desires that instructions be issued to the British Ambassador at Rome requesting him to inform the Italian Government that His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth of Australia accords de jure recognition of the incorporation of Abyssinia into the Royal Italian Empire.' [11]


1 Document 306.

2 Document 306, attachment I.

3 Document 307.

4 Not printed.

5 Document 308.

6 Not printed.

7 Italian Foreign Minister.

8 Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to Commonwealth Government, cablegram B408, 12 November 1938 (see AA : A981, Italy 30, ii).

9 Vilhelms Munters, Latvian Minister for Foreign Affairs 1936-40.

10 Document NS.

11 The submission was minuted 'Approved. J. A. Lyons. 15.11.38'.

The telegram cited in the last paragraph was sent to the Dominions Secretary as No. 122 of 16 November. The Australian decision was conveyed in the letter from the British Ambassador in Rome, Lord Perth, to the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Count Ciano, on 23 November. The letter was acknowledged on 27 November by Count Ciano, who asked that the Fascist Government's appreciation be conveyed to the Australian Government (See AA : A981, Abyssinia 20). See also Document 330.

[AA : A981, ABYSSINIA 20]