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Grey the Reformer

To succeed, the reformers required the commitment of the Foreign Secretary, representing the British government, to pressure the Congo Free State and Belgian governments. Lansdowne’s Foreign Office made progress by commissioning the Casement report and prodding Leopold on the Commission of Inquiry’s powers. Grey came into office committed to ending Congo misrule, and with little involvement by Prime Ministers, Britain’s Congo policy lay in his hands. He believed that Belgian annexation was the best antidote; therefore pressure must be judicious so as not to jeopardize this alternative, giving the Belgian legislature, government, and public time to take each step. Grey preferred moral persuasion and diplomatic pressure, but his patience had limits. In the October 1909 crisis, he was preparing for consular jurisdiction, closing the Nile, or military force if other tactics failed. Renkin’s reform announcement rendered this plan unnecessary, and Grey returned to diplomatic pressure. Grey’s patience and behind-the-scenes methods led Morel and others to feel betrayed. Unable or unwilling to understand, they sought other explanations in his character, the permanent staff’s hostility, and, for Morel, the structure of British foreign policy. When Morel reoriented the CRA’s stance to treat Grey as an enemy instead of a slow-moving ally, he sharply reduced its influence. Whereas the CRA in 1906-08 had collaborated with the Foreign Office, after the 1909 crisis, its chief role was to give Grey the excuse of public opinion for continuing pressure along the lines he had already set. The initiative had passed fully to the Foreign Office. Sir Edward Grey delivered the triumph of the Congo reform movement.

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