'Doomsday scenario' for pulling troops out of Ulster By Ben Fenton (Filed: 01/01/2005) Harold Wilson insisted that civil servants draw up a plan for withdrawal from Northern Ireland even after they told him it would condemn Britain in the eyes of the world. In what the Prime Minister described as the "Doomsday scenario", he wanted to make top secret arrangements for a withdrawal over a period of four months and the granting of dominion status to Northern Ireland, making it the equivalent of Australia or Canada. The instruction was issued in conditions of the highest secrecy to the most senior civil servants. Only four, numbered, copies were made of the memorandum in which Mr Wilson set down his instructions. "It was always suspected that these measures were taken at this time," Prof Ronan Fanning, professor of modern history at University College, Dublin, said. "We were all very scared that Britain might withdraw its troops and these papers show that we were right to be." The move came after appalling scenes in Northern Ireland where a general strike, more properly a lock-out organised by Protestant paramilitary groups, brought the province to its knees. On April 28, 1974, the deteriorating situation forced the resignation of Brian Faulkner, a moderate Unionist and the head of the power-sharing executive that Britain had hoped would unite Northern Ireland and prepare the way for lasting peace. Mr Wilson had first asked Robert (now Lord) Armstrong, his principal private secretary, to get reports from the main departments of state about the ramifications of his idea more than 10 days before Faulkner's downfall. The newly-released files show for the first time how horrified the civil service were. Departments warned that Britain's position in the world would be seriously undermined in the wake of a withdrawal that might bring with it widespread inter-communal violence, the raising of private armies and unprecedented bloodshed. Volunteers supporting either side might cross the Irish Sea to help Protestants and Catholics in an escalating tide approaching civil war. If the likely results, the Foreign Office said, "suggest a dark scenario not only in Northern Ireland but also in the rest of the UK, the following secondary repercussions abroad might ensue: "a) The Irish Republic blame Britain for all the ensuing violence in NI and this strains British relations with the United States (which could have an Irish Catholic President [Ted Kennedy] in 1976). "b) Violence in NI encourages foreign intervention whether by Irish-American volunteers or, more or less covertly, by unfriendly governments â the Soviet Union or Libya. "c) There is some form of United Nations intervention." The very process of pulling British troops and finances out of the province would have damaging effects, the Prime Minister was told on March 22, six days before the reinstatement of direct rule from London. "Military withdrawal of either kind would give aid and comfort to the IRA and encourage them to new efforts. "Simultaneously, the majority Protestant community is likely to see an opportunity to undertake. . . the aggressive security measures for which some of their leaders have called for so long (eg. . . the raising and use of private armies). There would be widespread communal violence." Britain's standing in the world would be severely damaged, the civil servants said. But Mr Wilson was undaunted. On May 26, he wrote: "If Britain decided to pull out in more or less peaceful circumstances, some troops could be left behind and a diminished financial contribution could be continued. If, on the other hand, Britain were forced out, we would owe them nothing..."