Thursday, 5 March 2020

Brexitwatch: Margaret Thatcher - Boris Johnson's part in her downfall

When Brexiters and Johnsonites talk about Margaret Thatcher, they tend to speak in tones of hushed reverence, but thanks to some good work by the Guardian on newly released papers, we now know that our current prime minister and the person most to blame for Brexit played a crucial role in bringing her down.

It is not mentioned much these days, but for most of her career, Thatcher was unambiguously pro-European – campaigning enthusiastically for Remain in the 1975 referendum and then perhaps doing more than anyone else to create the Single Market.

But by 1990, she and her party were losing popularity and divisions over Europe among her colleagues were beginning to surface, so Thatcher decided to throw the anti-EU contingent a bit of red meat (sound familiar?)  

The supplier was the Daily Telegraph’s correspondent on what was then called the EC (European Community), one Boris Johnson, who was known for writing highly entertaining anti-Brussels stories, which often had the drawback of being made up.

Johnson had attacked the European Commission president, Jacques Delors (a favourite bĂȘte noire of the right-wing press - 'Up Yours, Delors!' etc) claiming that he was endangering our sovereignty. The Foreign Office drew the article to Thatcher’s attention with a warning that it wasn’t true.

But Thatcher used it as the basis of her famous: ‘No! No! No!’ speech, which alarmed her more sensible MPs and ministers. (Note for younger readers: in those days some leading figures in the Conservative Party actually cared about what was in the interests of the UK.) And within a month, Britain’s first woman prime minister was gone.

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