After leaving office, Margaret Thatcher believed Britain should leave the EU

8 May 2013

On Tuesday night, at a Spectator readers’ evening, Andrew Neil interviewed me about my biography of Margaret Thatcher. He asked me if, after leaving office, Lady Thatcher had come to the view that Britain should leave the European Union. I said yes (I think it happened after the Maastricht Treaty in 1992), although advisers had persuaded her that she should not say this in public since it would have allowed her opponents to drive her to the fringes of public life.

I had believed this was widely known, but according to Andrew, it is a story. My revelation, if such it was, came on the same day as Nigel Lawson’s piece in the Times (£) saying that he would now vote for Britain to leave the EU. How things have changed. Even the BBC treats Lawson’s view as respectable. In this year, the 25th anniversary of the Bruges speech, people can see much more clearly that, far from living in ‘a ghetto of sentimentality about the past’ (© Geoffrey Howe), she was thinking harder than her contemporaries about the future of Europe.

This is an extract from Charles Moore’s Spectator’s Notes from this week’s magazine. Click here to subscribe to the magazine and receive a free copy of the official authorised biography of Margaret Thatcher, by Charles Moore, worth £30.


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  • The BBC Sucks BBCs

    She advocated leaving the EU in her book ‘Statecraft’.

  • torycrat

    I was interested to see two posts today arguing that the UK is effectively the country blocking EU reform. One was on these pages (the Leadsom piece). The other on a left wing site . Pause for thought?

    • Schadenfreuden

      If we are blocking EU reform then that is fantastic, reform only means worse things for EU citizens. Hopefully we block it so much and annoy the politicios so badly that they kick us out.

  • lansdowne8

    Easier to say that once safely out of the game and watching from the audience. Better and wiser not to have joined in the first place. Once in, it is trickier to get out.
    Really the basis after the Second War was trying to bind Germany and France so tightly that they would never make war on one another.

  • William Reid Boyd

    Will you be citing that, Charles?

    I mean it’s obviously of historical significance and I take it your biography will have scholarly pretensions. What I would like to see would be a reference to an article or a speech (an off the record remark perhaps at a funds-raising dinner, American style) , or if not that at least the recollection of a number of significant and reliable commentators of the time, presumably the advisers you mentioned are of that ilk, and while you are it perhaps you can explain exactly what it was that prompted these advisers to calculate her personal welfare was of more importance than promoting an important opinion that might have significantly influenced our political fortune at the time. Indeed what change had been wrought in the Iron Lady’s personality to bring about an acquiescence in such a deceit, not to too strong a word I think, given that she was still very much involved in public life. I mean in 1992, the time you mention, she was writing her memoirs and active in the work of her foundation. Equally one would like to know how it came about that such an obviously siginificant view (you say it was well known, presumably thus at least to her inner circle) did not receive widespread attention. And for that matter, to set the record straight, why she thought while still in office that we should remain in the EU, for that would be the corollory of changing her view after leaving office, and what exactly it was that made her change her mind.

    Otherwise I fear your revelation will likely be dismissed by scholars as opportunistic and self-serving, calling into question the reliability and good-faith of your entire work.

    Equally a biography ought not to neglect the purely anecdotal. The sort of everyday affair that allows us to gather a more fully rounded picture of the subjects’s humanity, her fads and foibles and so on, and for that reason I trust your biography will also reference the widely reported nine consecutive Christmas-season invitations to Chequers of the late Jimmy Saville. What on earth could she possibly have warmed to in the personality of this “gurning northern oaf”, as your colleague Rod Liddle so aptly described him, to want to spend hard-earned quality time with him? We should certainly wish to know that.

    • The BBC Sucks BBCs

      She advocated leaving the EU in her book Statecraft.

      • William Reid Boyd

        She did not.

        Indeed she was crtiicised for her reluctance to advocate leaving in her book. She certainly thought the European Union was unreformable, but what she actually advocated in the book was a renegotiation of the Treaty.

        If in private she thought we should leave, then that does indeed raise the issues I put to Charles. The book was publlished some 10 years after the Maastrich Treaty, the event that Charles said he believes turned the lady. Moreover the book coincided with her withdrawal from public life, so that if in act she formed her view later then her advancing senility must be taken into account in evaluating it.

        Facts matter. It is a fact of history that Margaret Thatcher supported our being in the European Union while she was in office and deepened our involvement. No amount of revisionism can ever change that and moreover, my friend, to attempt to do is to undermine the very freedoms she cherished and sought to protect so passionately.

        I would like to see Charles or a supporter reply.

  • timinsingapore

    Well, by the time she left office, she was deluded about quite a lot of other things too, if I recall correctly. What the doctor ordered at the beginning of her reign, off her trolley by the end.

  • Shoe On Head

    MT said europe was created by history, and america by philosophy.

    (shoe on head)

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Yes, and in Thatcher’s time, with a crumbling USSR and a falling Berlin Wall, following a near century long struggle both hot and cold, it was incumbent on government to look forward, but with full recognition of history, and seek an ordered process of change, an “ordered liberty” as she termed it, mindful of that history.

      In that context, an EU bringing France and Germany together, even as Germany reunified, makes perfect sense. It is a perfect confluence of past events and forward looking policy. Since we know where trouble has past arisen, what can we do about it? A perfectly conservative question to be asked, no?

      But let’s keep in mind, none of that confluence came about looking forward to an imposition that is the current EUSSR. This is a mutation from that original construct, and it is a complete departure from Thatcher’s commitment to liberty.

      • Shoe On Head

        cogent thoughts

      • dalai guevara

        So MT recognised the signs of the times when the Berlin Wall came down? What an extraordinary falsification of historic facts.
        By then, she was i g n o r e d by virtually everyone.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          You are historically illiterate, laddie. It’s part of your overall lack of education.

          You type nonsense.

          • dalai guevara

            Tell my matey, what influence did Thatcher have on the German outcome? Shutting down Munster whilst keeping Bergen-Hohne open?

            The deal was made with the Russians (ridding themselves of 1m+ migrants), the US (post cold war strategy) and the French (European integration). What amazing hand did Margaret play? Not that you would know any details with regards to European politics.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              Again, you are historically illiterate, laddie. It’s part of your overall lack of education.

              You type nonsense.

              • dalai guevara

                Yawn – I note you’ve frantically spent time reading some history books instead of coming up with something new.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  No, I’ve patiently (and foolishly) read your recent posts, which demonstrate you’re still the same historical illiterate of before, poorly educated as ever.

                  You type nonsense.

      • John McClane

        It’s not a mutation from the original construct. It’s happening as planned.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Perhaps, but not as Thatcher planned, as per the original discussion. Her goals were more circumspect, and mindful of issues of war and peace, rather than the socialist project. .

    • dalai guevara

      SoH – I salute you for your metaphorical eloquence, it’s also visually convincing (is that a BoJo haircut?)

      • Shoe On Head

        *giggles like a japanese school girl*

        not intentional dalai, but i do see your point.

  • White Wednesday

    I think this was well known by anyone who knew her or even spoke to her about Europe after circa 1992. I guess it was never ‘official’ which is perhaps what Andrew Neil meant?

    She had a very similar journey re climate change.

    In fact one could argue that Lord Lawson has always been one or two steps (and years) behind her. Which is more than be said of Heseltine, Howe, Clarke, Rifkind, Hurd, Major etc etc.

    • telemachus

      The conclusion was reached as part of the general process of losing faculties
      In much the same way as Lawson

      • John McClane

        Blaming senility in people when they have opinions opposed to your own is a bit low. On the other hand, maybe you, telemachus, suffer from premature senility, or maybe plain senility, since I don’t know your age.

        • telemachus

          I think what I am saying is that a vibrant economist and astute political operator could not conclude that to abrogate our rights in Europe and then to have to live by the rules to keep free trade status is irrational

          • Guest

            You only think what you’re saying? You don’t actually know what you’re saying?

          • John McClane

            That is not what you said.

            • Andy

              No it isn’t. But telemachus is our resident troll from the Fascist Party HQ.

    • dalai guevara

      More delusional tripe – how many steps behind was she with regards to the reunification of Germany?
      She was politically irrelevant when she left office, nationally and internationally.

      Unlike Bliar, she did not know when to go.
      Not very ‘finger on the pulse’ at all, is it?

      • John McClane

        She was completely right on the reunification of Germany. A divided Germany, both parts democratic, would now be less able to dictate to EZ members the terms of their budgets. She was not irrelevant when she left office, nationally or internationally. You just have to look at the analyses of her prime minister-ship since her death to see that. And to look at the coverage of her death and funeral. If she’d been truly irrelevant there would have been neither analyses nor coverage and instead a private funeral.

        Blair, on the other hand, promised the electorate he would go at the following election but cut and ran long before, regardless of his promises. ‘Not very ‘finger on the pulse’ at all,’ was it?

        • dalai guevara

          ‘a divided Germany, both parts democratic’


        • Randy McDonald

          Is that really the case?

          Even assuming that you could actually keep the two German states separate if they wanted to reunify, your implicit assumption that the Federal Republic’s inclusion of East Germany was necessary a benefit is quite open to question. East Germany has absorbed literally trillions of dollars (euros, pounds, DM) worth of investment from West Germany, and despite this is still substantially poorer than the former West Germany. East Germany hasn’t been an asset for the West.

          If anything, if the two German states were separate you’d have a much stronger West Germany, one with a population approaching 70 million people and with a substantially stronger economy that hasn’t been weighed down by the East.

  • Daniel Maris

    No doubt she also thought grammar schools should not be closed down, children should be given nutritious milk free in schools, Al Queda should not be armed and funded by us, and the nuclear power industry should not be subsidised…after leaving office.

    • Colonel Mustard

      More Thatcher mythology. The closure of grammar schools was a Labour party policy, instigated by Labour and implemented by Labour. They made it mandatory for LEAs to make the change. The LEAs had no choice. The Labour government coerced the change. When Thatcher became education secretary she changed that and made it optional. LEAs then had a free choice whether they closed grammar schools. Most LEAs had already progressed their plans too far to reverse them.

      Thatcher haters and Labour propagandists will say Thatcher closed more grammar schools than Labour or that more grammar schools closed under Thatcher than under Labour. This is typical dissembling and ignores the fact that it was another Labour “destroy Britain as we know it” project to begin with.

    • OldSlaughter

      When did we arm and fund AQ?

      • Lungs

        Probably when we bought crude from the Saudi Arabians?

        • OldSlaughter

          That is the sensible answer. But I didn’t think he meant that.

      • Daniel Maris

        When we supported the mad Jihadis in Afghanistan who included OBL. Poetic licence perhaps to call them AQ but that’s what they metamorphosed into…

        • OldSlaughter

          We were not supporting OBL. He did not want our help. The Arab in general fighters who morphed into that were not who we were helping.

          All in that is not a good example to use.

    • Eddie

      Yes, and she spoke against immigration whilst actual immigration increased massively in the 80s (something continued by Labour ethnophiliacs in the 90s).

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