Belfast Telegraph

Home News UK

Secret files: Labour's nuclear policy worried Whitehall in 1983

One of the British Government's previously hidden files, released as 20-year rule transition begins

British officials feared the election in 1983 of a Labour government committed to unilateral nuclear disarmament could have wrecked Britain's alliance with the United States, according to newly released documents.

Labour leader Michael Foot fought the 1983 general election on a unilateralist manifesto - famously dubbed "the longest suicide note in history".

Papers released by the National Archives show that civil servants working behind the scenes were desperate to steer an incoming Labour administration away from a clash with Britain's major allies.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong drew up a list of issues for the new prime minister which he would have to address as a matter of urgency.

"The most pressing are in the nuclear field where manifesto commitments to halt cruise missile deployment, cancel the Trident programme and include the British Polaris force in the current nuclear disarmament negotiations impinge directly on the interests of the United States and of Britain's other Nato allies," he wrote.

"You will wish to look for early advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and the Defence Secretary on how best to handle these issues so as to avoid or minimise damage to the cohesion of Nato."

The Ministry of Defence was even blunter when it came to the prospect of Labour ending the presence of US military forces in UK.

"The jettisoning of an alliance commitment by a major European ally could give added impetus to the isolationist movement in the US and begin a process of decoupling US forces from the defence of Europe," one official wrote.

The briefings were not needed. Labour was trounced as Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives were returned to power in a landslide with a 144 seat majority.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph