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People sensed that big events were impending. They did not know what; they only knew that, to a degree unprecedented since Munich, they were not being consulted or even allowed to know. 11 46 British Foreign Policy and the Atlantic Area Oddly, the Conservative Party, which might be expected to be especially strict in adherence to constitutional traditions, was in office during both periods. From the viewpoint of either main party, however, there is clearly an incentive from these events of recent decades to adhere to the custom of co-operation between the two Cabinet offices chiefly concerned with foreign relations.

This refers to the system of special trade agreements among Commonwealth nations to facilitate sale of British manufactured goods in return for purchase of food and raw materials from other members. The immediate incentives were of course economic, and significant preference arrangements were worked out during the Great Depression in the 1930s. However, there were other motives as well. Many in Britain viewed the system as a way to provide important political and economic cohesion to the diverse Commonwealth.

36 The need to import means that Britain's economy was in one sense precarious even when it was dominant internationally. As a small island nation, with little in the way of natural resources, trade was essential to survival. The nation's economic power was based on assets of skill and ingenuity rather than domestic raw materials. As long as Britain's industrial supremacy was unchallenged, and overseas areas provided sufficient cheap raw materials, there was little incentive to be concerned. Even at the height of the nation's power, nevertheless, economic prosperity rested on a peculiarly fragile base.

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