Geoffrey Howe, the foreign secretary whose resignation speech began the downfall of Margaret Thatcher, has retired from the House of Lords. The 88-year-old played a pivotal role in the chain of events which led to Thatcher being deposed as prime minister in 1990.
For many years there has been debate about whether Thatcher had become too overbearing towards the end. However, it is agreed that she had come into conflict with Howe over his pro-European views. He was keen to get Britain ready for membership of the Hard ECU, later known as the Euro. Thatcher was firmly opposed.
In his resignation speech as foreign secretary Howe described European negotiations under Thatcher’s premiership. He said: “It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, as the first balls are being bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain”.
He called on others to “consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long”. In response, Thatcher was challenged for the Conservative Party leadership by Michael Heseltine. She failed to win convincingly enough in the first round of voting and was forced to pull out when others entered the race.
Although many peers no longer take an active part in proceedings in the House of Lords, they have only been able to officially retire from their duties since legislation was passed last year.
Lord Speaker Baroness D’Souza wrote to peers in February telling them she believed it was a “public duty” for them to retire “at the right time”.
Other peers who have retired since then include former home secretary Lord Waddington, former environment secretary Lord Jenkin and former Conservative vice-chairman and pollster Lord Ashcroft.
Lord Howe was one of the most influential Conservative politicians of his generation, standing for the leadership of the party in 1975 before serving alongside Margaret Thatcher in government for more than ten years.
He became a life peer in 1992 after stepping down as an MP.