Margaret Thatcher to be buried next week with military honours as Britain pays tribute
Former British prime minister dies in London following stroke
Margaret Thatcher waves from the front door of her home after returning from the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital following an operation on her broken arm on June 29, 2009 in London, England. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, perhaps the most distinctive and divisive British politician since the second World War, will be honoured next week by a ceremonial funeral in St Paul’s Cathedral in London with military honours.
Baroness Thatcher died yesterday morning following a stroke in her suite in the Ritz Hotel in London, where she had been staying since leaving hospital in December after a bladder operation. She was 87.
Tributes flowed in from around the world, with British prime minister David Cameron saying she “didn’t just lead our country – she saved our country” and was “Britain’s greatest peace-time prime minister”.
As prime minister from 1979 until 1990, she was the first woman to hold that office and stridently pursued a transformative policy which pared back the role of the state and opened up new areas of the economy to private business.
She went to war with Argentina over its invasion of the Falkland Islands and, though wedded to Europe’s internal market, was a staunch opponent of the federalist notion of a “European superstate”.
Mrs Thatcher held power as the Troubles in Northern Ireland escalated in the wake of the IRA hunger strikes and was uncompromising in the face of persistent Irish demands for a new approach to the conflict.
In 1985, however, she gave Dublin a say in the administration of the North for the first time by signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement with then taoiseach Garret FitzGerald.
Although Taoiseach Enda Kenny noted strains in relations between Dublin and London in the Thatcher era, he said the Anglo-Irish accord helped lay the ground for peace.
“While her period of office came at a challenging time for British-Irish relations, when the violent conflict in Northern Ireland was at its peak, Mrs Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement which laid the foundation for improved North-South co-operation and ultimately the Good Friday agreement,” Mr Kenny said.
President Michael D Higgins, a strident critic in the past of Mrs Thatcher’s contentious dictum that there was no such thing as society, said her place in history was secure and noted that her policies in relation to Northern Ireland gave rise to considerable debate.
“However, her key role in signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement will be recalled as a valuable early contribution to the search for peace and political stability,” Mr Higgins said.
“She will be remembered as one of the most conviction-driven British prime ministers who drew on a scholarship that demanded markets without regulation.”
Former Labour prime minister Tony Blair, whose own economic policies bore the imprint of the Thatcher philosophy, said she was “a towering political figure” who had changed the world. In Washington, US president Barack Obama said “the world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend”.
Mrs Thatcher was politically close to then US president Ronald Reagan and was his staunchest ally in the latter years of the cold war.
In Moscow yesterday, former Soviet leader Mikhael Gorbachev said she had been a leader of “considerable weight”.
But there was enmity, too, from those still bitter over her role in the year-long miners strike of the mid-1980s, in which she faced down the powerful National Union of Mineworkers. One retired union leader said yesterday that her death was “the best birthday present” that he ever had.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said Mrs Thatcher had done “great hurt” to the peoples of both island.
A date for her funeral has not yet been set, but it is likely to be next week given the international guest list that will be drawn up for the event, which will, however, not be a state funeral, at her own request. In protocol terms, the funeral will be of the same standard as that accorded to Princess Diana and the Queen Mother, although her coffin will not be put on display in Westminster Hall for public tribute as happened in the latter case.
She left Number 10 Downing Street in 1990 after losing the support of leading figures within her party, which led to bitter internal divisions and played no small role in the Conservatives’ loss of power to Labour seven years later.
She was later struck by dementia – which, according to her daughter, Carol – deprived her often of the memories of many, if not all, of the epoch-making events in which she was involved during her turbulent 40-year political career.
Nevertheless, close friends visited frequently to share a whiskey, where on her good days Mrs Thatcher was not slow about expressing her opinions about the Conservative/Liberal Democrats coalition.