COLUMN: Gainsborough MP Edward Leigh and close friend of Margaret Thatcher pays tribute to ‘Mrs T’

It was very moving for me to attend Mrs T’s funeral. I worked on her staff in opposition. She came to my wedding. I was the last minister she created in November 1990. I always supported her.

She was always very kind to her staff, but, to be honest, I was a bit terrified of her. On the morning of her resignation, I went to Downing Street to try and persuade her to stay.

Many of you will remember the great difficulties this country faced in the 1970s, from the three-day-week to the great heavy hand of the state looming over the whole of society. A great many people believed that things would only get worse and worse: a long, slow, gradual decline of our once-great country.

Margaret Thatcher changed all that. She knew that malaise and decline were not the only options on the table, and she conceived a different vision for Great Britain. Her bravery and absolute determination, backed up by considerable intellect, forced through the necessary changes that forever altered the course of British history. It’s true, yes, that not everything was sweetness and light, and the Government were forced to make many difficult decisions that left some people in hard situations. But she knew that the medicine, however bitter, was necessary to put this country back on the right track. She knew this of Europe as well. Once she came to a full realisation of the threat that European centralisation played to our freedom and our right to self-determination, she was determined to fight tooth and nail for ordinary people governing themselves. Conservatives today are united in their determination, not only that no further powers will be given to Brussels but that we must begin returning to this country some of the powers which have already been taken away. Recent statements by the Prime Minister show that he knows full well how important this is to us, whether in Lincolnshire or elsewhere in the country. Together, we will get the best deal possible out of the European Union, to ensure a free Britain can flourish alongside our neighbours in Europe as well as in cooperation with our friends throughout the world.

Edward Leigh

MP for Gainsborough