Britain, Sunday, 2nd August
Early morning The German invasion and occupation of Luxembourg breaks the 1867 treaty signed by Britain, France and Prussia. Paul Cambon calls on Grey to ask what the British will do. Grey says the treaty is a collective guarantee, unlike the treaty with Belgium, and Britain individually is not obliged to act.
Morning Lichnowsky calls on Asquith. Asquith tells him war between Britain and Germany is unthinkable but it rests largely with Germany to make British intervention impossible if she would (i) not invade Belgium and (ii) not send her fleet into the Channel to attack the unprotected north coast of France.
Morning A small group of ministers meets in Lloyd George's office. They are not willing to go to war to support France in all circumstances or for a mere violation of Belgian territory but would go to war if there was a wholesale German invasion of Belgium.
Lloyd George and Harcourt go to Asquith and tell him they represent eight to ten cabinet colleagues who hold this view.
Morning The Conservative leaders, Bonar Law and Lord Lansdowne, send a letter to Asquith. It says "... it would be fatal to the honour and security of the United Kingdom to hesitate in supporting France and Russia at this juncture; and we offer our unconditional support to the Government in any measures they may consider necessary for this object".
This Conservative stance does not depend on a violation of Belgian neutrality by Germany as a cause of war.
11.00 A.M. to about 2.00 P.M. Cabinet Meeting There is a long and difficult meeting. There is a danger the cabinet will split and the government have to resign.
Grey says he is outraged by the way Germany and Austria have pushed aside all attempts at mediation.
Grey reminds the meeting of the 1912 naval agreement with France. The French fleet is concentrated in the Mediterranean and the British in the Channel and the North Sea. The French coast is open to attack by the German navy. Grey says he could not stay in office if Britain fails to protect the French coast. If Britain is to be neutral he will go.
Samuel says Britain must not go to war for "the sake of our goodwill for France" nor for "the balance of power". If Britain goes to war, it must be solely for British interests. Britain could go to war "for the protection of the northern coasts of France, which we could not afford to see bombarded by the German fleet and occupied by the German army, or for the maintenance of the independence of Belgium".
The cabinet eventually agree that Britain will not allow German warships to enter the Channel. The neutralists are starting to divide. Some hopefully believe honouring the consequences of the naval agreement with France will not necessarily involve Britain in war. And, France protects British interests in the Mediterranean. Others see it as tantamount to a declaration of war on Germany.
Grey also confirms that the British Expeditionary Force will not be sent to the Continent if there is war. To some neutralists this means if war does come for Britain it will be only a naval war, and not as costly or terrible as a land war.
The cabinet is very close to a major split but at this point only one minister resigns. They agree to meet later to discuss what to do about Belgium. [More]
During the cabinet meeting Asquith reads out the letter from Bonar Law and Lord Lansdowne offering “unhesitating support” for the government in any measures it considers necessary to support France and Russia. The cabinet know if the government collapses its successor will either be a coalition or a Conservative minority government in favour of war.
Asquith also gives his summary of the British position. He says:
(1) We have no obligation of any kind either to France or Russia to give them military or naval help.
(2) The dispatch of the Expeditionary Force to help France at this moment is out of the question and would serve no object.
(3) We must not forget the ties created by our long-standing and intimate friendship with France.
(4) It is against British interests that France should be wiped out as a Great Power.
(5) We cannot allow Germany to use the Channel as a hostile base.
(6) We have obligations to Belgium to prevent it being utilised and absorbed by Germany.
One cabinet member later described the cabinet meeting as the one "which decided that war with Germany was inevitable".
Just after midday Based on earlier diplomatic conversations the German Military Attaché reports to Berlin "... it would be desirable if our Navy refrained from actions which might lead to incidents ... regarded as a challenge. This would ... include naval attacks on French north coast, left unprotected by France in reliance on England".
During lunch The cabinet neutralists meet. Some feel they are being drawn step-by-step into a war for the benefit of France and Russia. They are being "jockeyed" over the German fleet. But Harcourt says he thinks an attack on the French Channel coast is a British interest. They discuss what to say about Belgium at the evening meeting.
Afternoon Grey gives a formal assurance to Paul Cambon that if German warships enter the Channel to operate against the French coast or shipping, the British navy will give all the protection possible.
Cambon asks what the cabinet would say about an invasion of Belgium. Grey tells him they are still considering what to say to Parliament the next day.
Grey adds if there is a European war Britain would not be able to send its army to the continent because of all its imperial responsibilities and the need to protect its coasts.
6.30 P.M. Cabinet Meeting The cabinet have an easier meeting and they agree to a statement regarding Belgium.
The report to the King of the day's meetings says "... protection of the French coasts ... is not only a recognition of our friendship with France, but is also imperatively required to preserve British interests" and "As regards Belgium, it was agreed, without any attempts to state a formula, that it should be made evident that a substantial violation of the neutrality of that country would place us in the situation contemplated as possible by Mr. Gladstone in 1870, when interference with Belgian independence was held to compel us to take action".
This statement gives some hope to those against joining the war as Germany might invade only a small part of Belgium on the route to France and the Belgians themselves not resist. If Belgium resists most in the cabinet believe Britain must enter the war.
A second cabinet member confirms he will resign. [More]
9.30 P.M. Conservative leaders meet. They know about the promise to France of naval protection but are disappointed with Asquith's formal reply to their letter which repeats the line Britain is under no obligation to France or Russia to give them naval or military support. They suspect the government is wavering and decide they should see Asquith as soon as possible the next morning.
Evening A small number of cabinet neutralists including Lloyd George meet at dinner. Lloyd George speaks strongly about the importance of maintaining Belgium's neutrality. He also talks about the danger of Russian expansion. Many are not willing to support a country like Russia. Lloyd George thinks the cabinet is on the point of breaking up.