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Adrian Lee is a Solicitor-Advocate in London, specialising in criminal defence, and was twice a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate.

The media is currently full of stories of Westerners who grew rich in the service of the Russian regime. Perhaps the tallest poppy to fall from grace is Gerhard Schröder, the former German Chancellor, who since leaving office in 2005 has served as Chairman of both the Russian energy giant Rosneft and Nord Steam AG.

Not for nothing is he regarded as the key figure in weening Germany onto the economic cocaine of cheap Russian gas, and thereby neutralising its political independence. Indeed, his close business relationship with Russia continued until the eve of the invasion of Ukraine: Schröder was nominated as a director of Gazprom in February 2022.

No wonder then that he has not only frequently spoken of his long-lasting friendship with Vladimir Putin, but once went so far as to state that he was convinced that the Russian President was “a flawless democrat”.

As years went by, Schröder never seemed to miss an opportunity to physically embrace Putin before the cameras whenever they publicly met. So close where they, that it reminded some Germans of the infamous 1979 photograph of Erich Honecker french-kissing Leonid Brezhnev in supposed “socialist fraternity”.

When Georgia was attacked by Russia in 2008, and when the Crimea was “annexed” in 2014, Schröder always had the same explanation: it was the West’s fault. At the start of February 2022, just a few weeks before Russia crossed the Ukrainian border, he accused the Zelensky government of “sabre-rattling”.

Unsurprisingly, the former statesman’s reputation has gone through something of a reassessment in recent weeks. On 1 March, Schröder’s entire office staff resigned in protest at their boss’s relationship with Russia. A week later, on 8 March, he faced two further blows.

Firstly, the German Social Democrat Party (which he once led and had been a member of since he was 19) initiated proceedings to expel him. Secondly, the Public Prosecutor General announced a formal investigation of his complicity in crimes against humanity, due to his senior role in Russian state-owned corporations. Whatever the eventual outcome, it is fair to say that Schröder’s personal reputation is unlikely to recover.

He is just the latest example of a prominent figure from a democracy who thought that it was desirable to trade with a dictatorship. Exactly 83 years ago this month, in March 1939, leading representatives of British industry signed “The Düsseldorf Agreement”, a trade pact that pointed the way towards closer commercial cooperation between Great Britain and the Third Reich. This late exercise in appeasement has largely been forgotten, and deserves closer re-examination.

The Federation of British Industries (FBI) started life in 1916 as the United British Industries Association, with a membership of 124 large firms. It soon became the leading British employers’ association, changed to the FBI moniker, and was duly incorporated by Royal Charter in 1923. It is still going today, but following merger with two smaller bodies, it again changed its name in 1965 to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), whom we all know and love.

First attempts to establish a trade deal between the UK and Nazi Germany began in July 1938. The FBI was in contact with its German counterpart, an organisation called Reichsgruppe Industrie (RI) and both agreed that the two governments would enter into negotiations as soon as possible regarding Anglo-German economic integration.

The next step was to organise a face-to-face meeting between industrialists from the two nations. This took place in London on 9 November between representatives of the British Board of Trade and the FBI and, on the German side, the Reich Ministry of Economics and RI.

By all accounts, things went well between them, and a firm date was pencilled in for a full conference to achieve a formal agreement. The overseas representatives then took their leave and returned to Germany.

Later that evening, the Nazis started burning synagogues as the officially sanctioned Kristallnacht pogrom began. Nevertheless, preparations continued for the big event (now planned for 15-16 March 1939 in Düsseldorf) and a further preliminary event was held in London between 21- 22 December. On this occasion, an agreement was reached on the establishment of Anglo-German coal cartel.

In February 1939, the British Government gave direct support to the forthcoming Düsseldorf negotiations by sending Frank Ashton-Gwatkin, director of the economics department at the Foreign Office and personal confidant of Neville Chamberlain, to Berlin for “consultations and preliminary investigations”.

The Nazis rolled out the red carpet for Ashton-Gwatkin. He was officially “received” during his visit by both Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s Foreign Minister, and Reichsmarshall Herman Göring, the so-called “Plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan”.

The trip went so well that within days two British Ministers, Sir Oliver Stanley, President of the Board of Trade, and Robert Hudson, Minster for Overseas Trade, made their own “virtually unprecedented” pilgrimage to Berlin and hosted a banquet for representatives of British industry.

With the main conference fast approaching, a high-profile delegation representing all corners of British industry was assembled by the FBI and led by their President, Sir Peter Bennett. On the eve of their departure to Germany for the conference, they were told by Walter Runciman, Lord President of the Council, “Gentlemen, the peace of Europe is in your hands.”

The group then ventured to Düsseldorf, but if they detected that the German government was a little preoccupied with other matters when they arrived, they would have been correct. History records that on the night of 14 March, the Reich’s industrial supremo, Herman Göring, was busy inducing a heart attack in Emil Hacha, the visiting Czech President, by threatening to bomb his capital if he failed to surrender his country.

Next morning, on 15 March, as the British trade delegation arrived for the first session of the conference, German tanks were entering Prague. Still the conference went ahead and on the following day the Agreement was ready to be signed.

The document took the form of a 12-point declaration and envisaged “a world economic partnership between the business communities” of Britain and Germany. The declared aim was to prevent “destructive competition” by implementation of quotas, price fixing, market sharing and joint development schemes.

Different industries in both countries were to be encouraged to begin negotiations to form bi-lateral cartels. British manufacturers were to be compelled to organise themselves according to the desire of the State. The FBI and RI pledged to invoke the powers of their governments to force third-country industries to comply with the terms of the Anglo-German arrangement.

If the delegates returned home pleased with themselves, it was to be short lived. To their astonishment, the world had moved on and, shocked by Germany’s occupation of Bohemia and Moravia, the Government decided not to ratify the Düsseldorf Agreement.

So, all of the FBI’s work had apparently been for nothing. However, not everyone went without recognition. Sir Peter Bennett, the FBI President who led the British delegation to Germany, was honoured by being elected to Parliament in December 1940, replacing Neville Chamberlain in Birmingham Edgbaston, and was later elevated to the peerage.