|Term of office|
May 28, 1937 - 1940
|Political party||Conservative Party|
|Preceded by||Stanley Baldwin|
|Succeeded by||Winston Churchill|
|Born||March 18, 1869|
|Died||November 9, 1940|
|Spouse||Ann Vere Cole|
Neville Chamberlain (March 18, 1869 – November 9, 1940) was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from May 27, 1937 to May 10, 1940. Chamberlain belonged to and was Leader of the Conservative Party. Chamberlain, together with France's Edouard Daladier, signed the Munich pact with Germany. This allowed Germany to annex the Sudetenland in exchange for a promise of peace. Chamberlain received a hero's welcome upon his return to Great Britain, declaring that the pact had provided "peace in our time." However, he also immediately took steps to bring the British armed forces into a state of readiness for war, implying that he himself knew that war was imminent. Hitler looked upon Chamberlain as an extremely wily character, and felt that he had been cheated out of war.
Not long after, Hitler took all of Czechoslovakia and then invaded Poland, starting World War II. In the spring of 1940, following British and French reverses in Norway, Chamberlain resigned and Winston Churchill became Prime Minister.
Criticism of his European statesmanship
Thomas Sowell wrote:
- No leader of a democratic nation was ever more popular than British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain—wildly cheered in the House of Commons by opposition parties as well as his own—when he returned from negotiations in Munich in 1938, waving an agreement and declaring that it meant "peace in our time." We know now how short that time was. Less than a year later, World War II began in Europe and spread across the planet, killing tens of millions of people and reducing many cities to rubble in Europe and Asia. Looking back after that war, Winston Churchill said, "There was never a war in all history easier to prevent by timely action." The earlier it was done, the less it would have cost. At one point, Hitler could have been stopped in his tracks "without the firing of a single shot," Churchill said.
Chamberlain's disastrous foreign policy and inept conduct of the first months of World War II overshadowed a lifetime of achievement before his comparatively short tenure as Premier, particularly in the field of domestic policy. As Minister of Health twice and in a long period of office as Chancellor of the Exchequer, his achievements included landmark reforms of local government finance, improvement of conditions in factories, establishment of the basis of a welfare state, repayment of much the National Debt from the Great War and technological modernisation of British industry. Consequently, he is generally rated as one of the most significant UK government ministers of the 20th century. Ironically, the economic strength achieved by Chamberlain's domestic reforms in peacetime placed Britain in a strong position to resist Germany when war broke out. He remained respected in Parliament and the country even after his fall from Prime Ministerial office, and was in charge of home policy in the Churchill government until shortly before his death in 1940.