Live and let live: Britain and Portugal's imperial endgame (1945-75)

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The aim of this article is to provide an assessment of the interplay between Britain and Portugal in the three decades that witnessed the dissolution of their respective colonial empires. Operating within an authoritarian framework, Portugal's decision-makers were largely exempt from the pressures that in other European democracies contributed to accelerate the pace of decolonization. They were therefore keen to forge a close (and, seen retrospectively, dangerous) connection between the fate of the dictatorship in the metropolis and the survival of Portugal's rule in the overseas provinces. The article examines the destabilizing impact of Britain's colonial retreat on Portugal's empire and tries to make sense of the factors that held back successive British governments from assuming a more critical posture towards the Estado Novo's policies. The article shows that although strategic and tactical calculations may have been paramount in the formulation of Britain's policies towards Portugal, the Foreign Office's historically benign posture vis-à-vis the dictatorship in Lisbon was also a factor to be taken into account. A final section briefly considers how the simultaneous 'regime change' in London and Lisbon in 1974 allowed the UK to play a small but not insignificant role in the final states of Portugal's decolonization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)186-208
Number of pages23
JournalPortuguese Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Anglo-Portuguese relations
  • British foreign policy
  • Decolonization
  • Empires


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