Europe IN 250 words: What would Mrs Thatcher do?

Mrs Thatcher was a Remainer. She criticised the EU up hill and down dale – but she would never have quit. The former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez tells all to the New Weather Institute. Our thanks to his friend Spanish journalist and ex editor of El Pais, Javier Moreno, for this fascinating piece.

Now, what would she have done this Thursday?

For a whole generation of Europeans, Margaret Thatcher embodied the ultimate inflexibility in the defence of the United Kingdom’s position of exception within Europe. Particularly for the Heads of State and Government who shared with her so many dreaded European Councils until the wee hours.

She wanted her money back, she would get her money back. She obtained many amendments in her favour in the negotiations in which she was involved, she managed to paralyse quite a few and on the whole she successfully defended what she thought the best options for British citizens.

She and Felipe González, back then the Spanish Prime Minister, sat together in many Councils. Their positions were diametrically opposed, not only on Europe but on the social and economic model they advocated for their countries. “Exactly the opposite in absolutely everything”, reminisces Felipe González. Which didn’t prevent him to state once that Mrs. Thatcher was “a true friend”. They did have in common an attitude that was very clear but not usual in politics: say what you really believe, loud and clear; face to face.

I had already heard González tell this tale, but I asked him again last Sunday. Mrs. Thatcher’s recurring line when a Council came to a standstill because of Great Britain’s position was: I find everything you are proposing utter nonsense, I’m going to fight to change it, I’m going to try and thoroughly amend what you present, I completely disagree, but don’t get me wrong: I will never, ever, ever get off this train.

Nobody knows for sure what Mrs. Thatcher would do next Thursday. In fact, several years after having left Downing Street, she proclaimed with regard to Maastricht: “A treaty too far, I could never have signed this treaty”. However, at that point, she was already sniping from the fringes, no longer in the driver’s seat and the responsibilities this entails. The only thing we can be certain of is that, under her watch, as she categorically drove home time and again, the United Kingdom would have never ever, ever got off the European train.

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