It was fitting, perhaps, that Geoffrey Howe, the Tory statesman, died the same weekend that prime minister David Cameron listed his four demands for reforming the European Union — a prelude to the expected 2017 referendum on British EU membership.
Howe died at age 88 after a heart attack on Saturday, ending one of the most accomplished lives of postwar British politics. Entering the House of Commons for the first time in 1964, Howe served as a trade minister under Conservative prime minister Edward Heath. But it was during Margaret Thatcher’s reign that put him in a real position to shine — first as chancellor between 1979 and 1983, during some of the headiest days of the Thatcherite free-market revolution, and later as foreign secretary from 1983 to 1989, when he tackled the US invasion of Grenada, the denouement of the Cold War, the Libyan crisis and, of course, an increasingly adversarial relationship between Thatcher and the European Economic Community.
It was Howe’s resignation speech in 1990 as deputy prime minister, having been unceremoniously demoted by Thatcher from the foreign office, that led to her own downfall just 12 days later.
The speech today is worth watching, not for its drama (though it contained that in spades — Howe’s quiet and gentlemanly manner couldn’t have been more devastating in its effect) but for its warning on Europe, especially with the 2017 referendum looming.
At the time, Howe challenged both Thatcher’s style and substance on Europe. In particular, he took issue with her reluctance to admit the United Kingdom into the ‘currency snake’ that set the value of the UK pound within a narrow band. He also chided her attitude toward ruling out, in absolute terms, any British participation in a single currency: Continue reading Geoffrey Howe showed Britain the path forward on Europe