Margaret Thatcher's Falklands fears revealed - UK papers

Friday 28 December 2012 16.50
Former US President Ronald Reagan issued a last-ditch appeal to Margaret Thatcher to abandon her campaign to retake the Falklands
Former US President Ronald Reagan issued a last-ditch appeal to Margaret Thatcher to abandon her campaign to retake the Falklands

Official papers released in Britain reveal that Margaret Thatcher felt the invasion of the Falklands in 1982 was the worst moment of her life.

Released by the British National Archives, the papers give a new insight into the thinking of the former prime minister on the eve of the Falklands War 30 years ago and say the invasion took her completely by surprise.

It was also revealed that former US President Ronald Reagan issued a last-ditch appeal to Ms Thatcher to abandon her campaign to retake the Falklands and to hand over the islands to international peacekeepers.

Files show as British troops closed in on final victory, the US president made a late-night phone call to Ms Thatcher urging her not to completely humiliate the Argentines.

However, his request fell on deaf ears as a defiant prime minister insisted that she had not sent a British task force across the globe just "to hand over the Queen's islands to a contact group".

Mr Reagan made his call to Ms Thatcher in Downing Street at 11.30pm London time on 31 May 1982, as British forces were beginning the battle for Port Stanley, the Falklands capital.

The Americans had already proposed sending a joint US-Brazilian peacekeeping mission, and the president suggested that the time had come to show magnanimity.

"The best chance for peace was before complete Argentine humiliation," he told her.

"As the UK now had the upper hand militarily, it should strike a deal now."

Ms Thatcher was having none of it.

The United Kingdom, she said, could not contemplate a ceasefire without Argentinian withdrawal.

According to the official No 10 note, she told him: "Britain had not lost precious lives in battle and sent an enormous task force to hand over the Queen's islands to a contact group.

"As Britain had had to go into the islands alone, with no outside help, she could not now let the invader gain from his aggression. The prime minister asked the president to put himself in her position.

"She had lost valuable British ships and invaluable British lives. She was sure that the president would act in the same way if Alaska had been similarly threatened."

The prime minister said "the most sensible thing" would be for the Argentinians to withdraw, before ending the conversation with a familiar refrain: "There was no alternative."

As the battle reached its climax she even drafted a telegram to the Argentinian leader General Galtieri - although it was never sent - demanding for a final time that he withdraw his forces.

"In a few days the British flag will be flying over Port Stanley. In a few days also your eyes and mine will be reading the casualty lists," she wrote.

"On my side, grief will be tempered by the knowledge that these men died for freedom, justice and the rule of law. And on your side? Only you can answer that question."