The Fall of Thatcher the Remainer

Margaret Thatcher would have voted remain. It’s a big claim about a woman now often seen as the spiritual mother of modern Euroscepticism.

It comes from an ardent remainer but who also claims some authority on the issue the Iron Lady’s views on Europe. As well as being in her cabinet, John Gummer, now Lord Deben, was one of her most pro-European ministers. He recalls how she would warn him in advance of a pending anti-Brussels rant, knowing he would vehemently disagree.

He sees her “NO NO NO” anti- Europeanism as born of  an innate distrust of Germany which she inherited from her father.  Typically of her  World War II generation, she liked Americans, and was wary of Europeans. She had no dreams of the UK as a buccaneering Singapore flourishing away from Europe. Practicalities would have outweighed prejudice.

But his more compelling argument is her caution. Margaret Thatcher was unquestionably a radical who changed Britain. She managed to do so because she was never rash. Rail privatisation was expressly avoided. Anti union measures in Britain’s docks shied away from. She may have marketed herself as a firebrand held back by cowardly (male ) colleagues. In Lord Deben’s view the opposite was the case. The huge gamble of the referendum itself, and then breaking decade long ties and arrangements, would’ve been anathema.

Its a fascinating perspective given her fall is rightly attributed, in part, to her views on Europe. The split then was in no way In or Out. Conservative Euroscepticism was in a different place in the 1980s and early 1990s. Whether Lady Thatcher’s would have followed a similar Leave bound journey to many other Tories is impossible to know. But the argument her caution would have made her a loyal Cameroon when it came to the 2016 vote is plausible - given that many other Conservatives such as William Hague  backed remain - even though they held deep reservations about Project Brussels.