Thatcher’s foreign affairs private secretary says his former boss was right to stand up to leaders on the continentby Charles Powell / November 8, 2017 / Leave a comment
Last month Charles Powell gave a lecture on Margaret Thatcher, for whom he worked for eight years. It took place at Hertford College, Oxford, and his focus was her relationship with Europe. You can read the full talk below, and watch it here. The lecture is part of a series on prime ministers since Thatcher and their relationships with the continent. The talk on Gordon Brown is online already, and we will be publishing the rest in due course.
I will start with a couple of introductory comments.
The organisers of this speech series want the speakers to address the policies of successive prime ministers on Britain’s membership of the European Union. But Europe in the 1980s was not all about the European Union or European Community as it then was. As Margaret Thatcher said in her Bruges speech “the European Community is one manifestation of Europe’s identity but not the only one.” Europe in the 1980s was much more about forcing the withdrawal of the Soviet intermediate nuclear missiles which threatened Europe’s security. It was about bringing the Cold War to an end and liberating East and Central Europe from Communism. It was about bringing down the Berlin Wall and re-uniting Germany. In strategic and global terms these achievements were of greater significance for the future of the continent than developments in the European Community which itself played only a peripheral role in them. In judging the performance of British prime ministers in Europe one has to keep in mind the relative importance of the European Community in that wider context. Margaret Thatcher’s contribution to those historic changes in Europe of the 1980s was of considerably greater significance than her part in the European Community.
In similar vein politics and government in the UK in the 1980s were not all about the European Community as they seem to be now, when it seems almost illegal to talk about anything other than Brexit. They were about rebuilding the British economy on free market principles, reducing taxation, privatising nationalised industries, reforming industrial relations to break trade union power, re-taking the Falklands. European affairs mattered of course they did, but not as much as the transformative changes being brought about within Britain. I would guess that Margaret Thatcher spent less time on the problems in our relations with the European Community than any of her successors as prime minister, as well as more on changing Britain. Indeed Europe’s greatest impact on British politics of the time was, together with the poll tax, to bring down Margaret Thatcher as prime minister and end her political career.