Reagan's Westminster Speech: 40 Years On

08 June 2022
Commentary

Reagan's Westminster Speech: 40 Years On

On June 8 1982, US President Ronald Reagan addressed UK MPs in the Palace of Westminster, proposing the creation of democracy assistance organisations. On the 40th anniversary of that speech, our Chair Richard Graham MP reflects on what "today's equivalent of Reagan's call to democratic arms" should look like and argues for a "renewed call to action to support democracy."

On June 8 1982, US President Ronald Reagan addressed UK MPs in the Palace of Westminster. He said:

"We're approaching the end of a bloody century plagued by a terrible political invention -- totalitarianism. Optimism comes less easily today, not because democracy is less vigorous, but because democracy's enemies have refined their instruments of repression. Yet optimism is in order, because day by day democracy is proving itself to be a not-at-all-fragile flower. From Stettin on the Baltic to Varna on the Black Sea, the regimes planted by totalitarianism have had more than 30 years to establish their legitimacy. But none -- not one regime -- has yet been able to risk free elections. Regimes planted by bayonets do not take root."

A man smiling

On the 40th anniversary of that speech, our Chair Richard Graham MP wrote in The House that "never has there been a stronger example" of the democratic resilience that Reagan was describing than now, in Ukraine.

Reflecting on what "today's equivalent of Reagan's call to democratic arms" should look like, he argued: "Reagan’s words inspired a generation. We now need a renewed call to action to support democracy. Let us start by ensuring Ukrainian democracy wins out and reconfirm our belief that it is “the democratic countries that are prosperous and responsive to the needs of their people."

In his speech, President Reagan proposed an initiative “to foster the infrastructure of democracy–the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities–which allows a people to choose their own way, to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.”

The creation of the US democracy assistance organisation, the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute followed. Ten years later, MPs from across the benches of the House of Commons agreed to form Westminster Foundation for Democracy.

Revist Reagan's Speech

The full speech is available to watch via the Reagan Library.

Remote video URL