Neville Chamberlain

(1869—1940) prime minister

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British statesman and Conservative prime minister (1937–40). He advocated appeasement towards the fascist powers in the 1930s.

Born in Birmingham, of which his father, Joseph Chamberlain (1836–1914), was to become a famous mayor, Neville Chamberlain was a Conservative MP from 1918 to 1940. He is least known for his important social reforms while minister of health (1923; 1924–29), which introduced a large-scale housing programme, new engineering industries, and pensions and insurance legislation. He served as chancellor of the exchequer (1931–37) before replacing Stanley Baldwin as prime minister in the coalition national government (1931–40), formed to combat Britain's economic difficulties.

Chamberlain's policy of appeasement towards Germany, Italy, and Japan was designed to postpone war until Britain had rearmed. He abandoned the sanctions imposed on Italy after its conquest of Ethiopia (1936), watched while Germany annexed Austria (1938), and, in the Munich Agreement (1938), recognized Hitler's claims to the Sudetenland, then in Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain returned from his meeting with Hitler in Munich waving a piece of paper, which he proclaimed would guarantee ‘peace in our time’. However, he immediately ordered the acceleration of rearmament. When, in March 1939, Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain rejected appeasement and introduced the first military conscription in Britain in peacetime. After the German invasion of Poland later that year, Chamberlain issued an ultimatum to Germany, which resulted in a state of war being declared on 3 September 1939. However, the Allied reverses in Norway at the beginning of World War II revealed the inadequacy of British preparations and forced Chamberlain's resignation (1940). He served briefly in his successor Churchill's cabinet, resigning because of illness in October 1940.

Subjects: British History.

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