Margaret Thatcher's death: the political world responds

How Barack Obama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ed Miliband and others have responded to the former prime minister's death.

Margaret Thatcher's spokesman Lord Bell announced this morning that the former prime minister had died following stroke.

David Cameron, who was in a meeting with Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy when the news broke, was due to head to Paris but is now flying back to the UK. Downing Street has announced that Thatcher will receive a ceremonial funeral with military honours at St Paul's Cathedral.

We'll update this blog throughout the day as reactions from the political world come in. 

David Cameron

Today is a truly sad day for our country. We’ve lost a great prime minister, a great leader, a great Briton. As our first woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher succeeded against all the odds. And the real thing about Margaret Thatcher is she did not just lead our country, she saved our country. And I believe she will go down as the greatest British peacetime prime minister. Today is obviously a day we should most of all think of her family. We’ve lost someone great in public life, but they’ve lost a much-loved mother and grandmother and we should think of them today.

Ed Miliband

I send my deep condolences to Lady Thatcher's family, in particular Mark and Carol Thatcher.

She will be remembered as a unique figure. She reshaped the politics of a whole generation. She was Britain's first woman Prime Minister. She moved the centre ground of British politics and was a huge figure on the world stage.

The Labour Party disagreed with much of what she did and she will always remain a controversial figure. But we can disagree and also greatly respect her political achievements and her personal strength.

She also defined the politics of the 1980s. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and I all grew up in a politics shaped by Lady Thatcher. We took different paths but with her as the crucial figure of that era.

She coped with her final, difficult years with dignity and courage. Critics and supporters will remember her in her prime.

Nick Clegg

Margaret Thatcher was one of the defining figures in modern British politics.

Whatever side of the political debate you stand on, no one can deny that as Prime Minister she left a unique and lasting imprint on the country she served.

She may have divided opinion during her time in politics but everyone will be united today in acknowledging the strength of her personality and the radicalism of her politics.

My thoughts are with her family and friends.

Barack Obama

With the passing of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend.  As a grocer’s daughter who rose to become Britain’s first female prime minister, she stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered.  As prime minister, she helped restore the confidence and pride that has always been the hallmark of Britain at its best.  And as an unapologetic supporter of our transatlantic alliance, she knew that with strength and resolve we could win the Cold War and extend freedom’s promise.

Here in America, many of us will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply carried along by the currents of history—we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will.   Michelle and I send our thoughts to the Thatcher family and all the British people as we carry on the work to which she dedicated her life—free peoples standing together, determined to write our own destiny.

Mikhail Gorbachev

The news about the death of Margaret Thatcher is a sad tiding. I knew that she was seriously ill; the last time we saw each other was several years ago. My sincere condolences go to her family and friends.

Thatcher was a politician whose word carried great weight. Our first meeting in 1984 set in train relations that were sometimes complicated, not always smooth, but which were serious and responsible on both sides. Human relations also gradually took shape, becoming more and more friendly. In the end we managed to achieve a mutual understanding, and that contributed to a change in the atmosphere between our country [the Soviet Union] and the West and the end of the Cold War.

Margaret Thatcher was a heavyweight politician and a striking person. She will remain in our memories, and in history.

George W. Bush

Laura and I are saddened by the death of Baroness Margaret Thatcher. She was an inspirational leader who stood on principle and guided her nation with confidence and clarity. Prime Minister Thatcher is a great example of strength and character, and a great ally who strengthened the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States. Laura and I join the people of Great Britain in remembering the life and leadership of this strong woman and friend.

Tony Blair

Margaret Thatcher was a towering political figure. Very few leaders get to change not only the political landscape of their country but of the world. Margaret was such a leader. Her global impact was vast. And some of the changes she made in Britain were, in certain respects at least, retained by the 1997 Labour Government, and came to be implemented by governments around the world. 

As a person she was kind and generous spirited and was always immensely supportive to me as Prime Minister although we came from opposite sides of politics. 

Even if you disagreed with her as I did on certain issues and occasionally strongly, you could not disrespect her character or her contribution to Britain's national life. She will be sadly missed.

Gordon Brown

Sarah and I have sent messages to Lady Thatcher's son Mark and daughter Carol, offering our condolences to them and to the Thatcher family and commemorating Lady Thatcher's many decades of service to our country.

She will be remembered not only for being Britain's first female Prime Minister and holding the office for 11 years, but also for the determination and resilience with which she carried out all her duties throughout her public life. Even those who disagreed with her never doubted the strength of her convictions and her unwavering belief in Britain's destiny in the world.

During our time in Number 10, Sarah and I invited Lady Thatcher to revisit Downing Street and Chequers - something which we know she enjoyed very much. But it was sad for her and her family that she lost her devoted husband Denis almost 10 years ago and that she was unable to enjoy good health in the later years of her retirement.

John Major

In government, the UK was turned around under – and in large measure because of – her leadership. Her reforms of the economy, trades union law, and her recovery of the Falkland Islands elevated her above normal politics, and may not have been achieved under any other leader. Her outstanding characteristics will always be remembered by those who worked closely with her: courage and determination in politics, and humanity and generosity of spirit in private.

Boris Johnson

She ended the defeatism and pessimism of the post-war period and unleashed a spirit of enterprise. She fought against the clubby, cosy, male-dominated consensus of both main parties – and she won. Her beliefs – in thrift, hard work, and proper reward for merit – were not always popular. But her legacy is colossal. This country is deeply in her debt. Her memory will live long after the world has forgotten the grey suits of today’s politics.

Iain Duncan Smith

Even if you disagreed with her as I did on certain issues and occasionally strongly, you could not disrespect her character or her contribution to Britain's national life. She will be sadly missed.

Michael Heseltine

I am sorry to learn of Lady Thatcher’s death. The illness of her last years has been cruel and very difficult. I send my deepest condolences to Mark and Carol.

Neil Kinnock

I recognise and admire the great distinction of Baroness Thatcher as the first woman to become leader of a major UK political party and prime minister. I am sorry to hear of her death and offer my sympathy to her family.

Ed Balls

Harriet Harman 

Douglas Alexander

Tom Watson

Stewart Wood (chief strategist to Ed Miliband)

Charles Kennedy

In extending sincere sympathy to the Thatcher family we remember today a landmark political figure, both at home and abroad. She was one of those politicians who made the weather.

As a politically divisive figure - not least where Scotland was concerned - her legacy will always be controversial.

And she continues to cast a considerable shadow across today's Conservative party.

But her impact - positive and negative - remains near immeasurable.

Gerry Adams

Margaret Thatcher did great hurt to the Irish and British people during her time as British prime minister. Working class communities were devastated in Britain because of her policies. Her role in international affairs was equally belligerent whether in support of the Chilean dictator Pinochet, her opposition to sanctions against Apartheid South Africa; and her support for the Khmer Rouge.

Here in Ireland her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering. Her failed efforts to criminalise the republican struggle and the political prisoners is part of her legacy. It should be noted that in complete contradiction of her public posturing, she authorised a back channel of communications with the Sinn Fein leadership but failed to act on the logic of this. Unfortunately she was faced with weak Irish governments who failed to oppose her securocrat agenda or to enlist international support in defence of citizens in the north.

Margaret Thatcher will be especially remembered for her shameful role during the epic hunger strikes of 1980 and 81. Her Irish policy failed miserably.

Margaret Thatcher listens during her meeting with David Cameron inside 10 Downing Street in London June 8, 2010. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How a devolved immigration policy could work in Brexit Britain

London and Scotland could keep free movement, or something close to it. 

Just a few short months after the vote to Leave, Britain and the European Union appear to be hurtling towards confrontation – and mutual self-harm. At the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), we believe that what we need is not “hard Brexit” or “soft Brexit” but “smart Brexit”.

At the moment, too much of the debate is characterised by clinging on to obsessively ideological positions, or attempting to relitigate the referendum because you didn’t like the result. There is far too little serious policy thinking taking place.  

Firstly, we should demand that politicians think again on immigration policy. Recent polling has shown that the country is split on whether to prioritise the economy or immigration control in the negotiations. Given this, it would be reasonable to expect politicians to attempt to accomplish both. Yet politicians on both left and right have marched off to the extremes.

Theresa May has indicated that we are heading towards a one-size-fits-all closed borders system; Jeremy Corbyn has made an absolute commitment to freedom of movement, defining immigration as a problem of austerity economics. Both positions are overly simplistic, unoriginal, and show little regard for our democracy or national interest. We should begin by disentangling the different strands of the immigration debate. 

The referendum exposed three broad contours to the immigration question. The first is that different parts of the country have different interests; the benefits and costs of immigration are not evenly distributed, particularly with regard to jobs. Second, there is an important cultural dimension about consent – expressed as "nobody asked us" – and the pace of change in specific communities. It was striking that the areas with the highest levels of immigration strongly voted Remain; but those with the fastest pace of change voted strongly Leave. Third, that there are public concerns about the impact of immigration on public services and housing.

A devolved immigration system would allow different parts of the country to act according to their (divergent) interests. It could work by using certificates of sponsorship to require employers to specify the place of work and residence of the employees they sponsor; and by setting region-specific quotas for these certificates by sector (and possibly pay level).

Such an approach would better secure our national interest by recognising our regional differences, boost democratic decision-making and so address consent, and go some way to address the impact on public services and housing. It would work for both EU and non-EU migrants. There are international precedents, such as Canada. 

A regional solution

Under this option, different regions would determine their interests and then either set quotas for specific sectors or determine that some or all sectors should have no restrictions, differentiated by EU and non-EU migrants. In sectors which required work permits, employers would need to draw down against agreed quotas. Employers would be required to register a place of work for migrant employees, and ensure that their home address was in a commutable distance from their place of work. For those sectors without restrictions, registration would take place but would not be subject to quotas. It would mean some additional rigidity in the labour force - migrants workers would not be able to be redeployed from one part of the country to another without affecting each region’s quotas. 

The key to such an approach is London. The capital is a huge draw for people from overseas - it would have to decide to sustain free movement for a devolved system to have any chance of being effective. There would simply be too much risk of backdoor entry to London if it were to set quotas. Londoners, like the rest of the country, are split on immigration. Nonetheless, they elected a Mayor who openly supports free movement, London’s globally-orientated services sector benefits strongly from immigration, and voted strongly for Remain. There is every reason to believe that London would decide to continue free movement for EU citizens. 

The crucial step for such an approach to have legitimacy would be to have democratic control of setting work permit quotas. For Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and London, the devolved democratic structures are already in place to make decisions on immigration. Not only did Scotland vote strongly to Remain, when Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gave her first major post-Brexit speech at IPPR in July, she described the importance of free movement for Scotland. The Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies are clearly well-placed to make decisions for their parts of the Union. 

Democratic solutions for other parts of the country would need to be bespoke. One approach might be to form “Grand Committees” of existing elected representatives in different regions. These would bring together elected council leaders, the newly-elected Metro Mayors, and Members of Parliament, with voting in an electoral college, determined by population size. They would then consult with the public and employers, examine the evidence, and make the decisions for which the public could hold them to account.   

Goodbye, net migration target

Elected politicians would need to be able to make informed decisions, based on analysis of the skills base and the workforce requirements for sectors in each region. It would be vital to have proper consultation processes with employers and with citizens and communities. 

Such an approach would also require the devolution of the education and skills systems. If employers cannot seek skilled labour from overseas, they will need to be able to secure skilled workers at home. The entity responsible for immigration policy would need to make skills policy, too. 

National immigration policy would be reserved for those areas that are properly national, such as refugee resettlement and asylum policy for those fleeing persecution. By focusing national political choices on matters of principle, it would enable us to have a more moral conversation about our obligations in the world. It would stop us from conflating the people fleeing the terrible destruction in Syria with those looking for a boost to their pay from higher wages in Britain than in Eastern Europe. It might just enable us to begin to act like responsible members of the international community again. We should also embrace what could be termed “cultural free movement”: allowing all EU citizens to visit and to study across the UK visa-free. This would tap into the nobler – and popular – aspects of the European project, and might be used to secured our continuing participation in pan-European scientific research and the Erasmus programme. Immigration controls on the citizens of European countries should be reserved for employment, through work permits.    

It would also require the net migration target to be abandoned, as it is completely inconsistent to have a national net target with devolved controls. This would be a good thing: it would provide political cover to abandon a particularly stupid piece of policy. As IPPR has argued for many years, it makes absolutely no sense to lump together American bankers, Polish builders, and Syrian refugees and count them all as the same. Furthermore, a recent IPPR report concluded that the numbers are probably shoddy anyhow. They simply don't stand up to serious scrutiny. If you believe the official figures, tens of thousands of people get university degrees and then disappear into black economy jobs earning cash-in-hand every year. It’s just not plausible.

So, how can a devolved immigration system help?

Professors and fruitpickers

A devolved immigration system would recognise that different parts of the country have different interests. Strong majorities in London and Scotland have voted for political leaders that openly support free movement of people. In other parts of the country, there appears to be a stronger consensus that free movement is not in their interests. 

The East of England, for example, might conclude that it needed migrants to work in the fields of the fens and to work in research laboratories in Cambridge’s world leading institutions, and place no restrictions on fruit pickers and professors. But it might also decide to set quotas for skilled jobs in light manufacturing, and to direct the skills system to train local workers for those roles instead of opening those opportunities up to migrants. This would mean that the immigration system could be optimised to the interests of different parts of the UK. 

Moreover, a devolved approach would humanise the debate on immigration. It would require practical choices determined by regional needs. It would remind us that migrants are people who do essential jobs like work in our hospitals (I imagine every part of the UK will want to keep the NHS functioning). It would demand that local employers make the case to local politicians. It might just take us away from high level statistics and low level instincts. It would take us from the politics of the gut being fought in the gutter to a more responsible discussion. 

Critics will say that this will end up with free movement in a complex and bureaucratic way. Even if this was the case – it is not clear that it would be – it would mean that people would have decided for themselves that migration was beneficial. Some degree of messiness is inherent in any compromise solution; and the incremental complexities of a devolved rather than national system are marginal. If Britain found its way to free movement by democratic consent rather than by Whitehall diktat, that would surely be preferable. Then, the question, “what have the immigrants ever done for us?” might well receive a Monty Pythonesque response. 

Tackling the pressures

Proper management of immigration means addressing its consequences. In a world where public sector budgets are being cut, services have struggled to cope with demand. Most studies have demonstrated that migrants, in the aggregate, are net contributors to the public purse but that does not take away from the pressures felt locally. Politicians on the left and right have alighted on some common ground in their approach - all major parties support a migration impact fund. Yet a migration impact fund, whilst necessary and useful, is ultimately marginal.  

The real solution must be to address the underlying allocation formulae that create these distributional problems. In addition to his pointless, destructive, and unnecessary reorganisation of the NHS, Andrew Lansley also tampered with the allocation formula that distributes NHS budgets across the country. It was reweighted to increase the significance of age, meaning that areas with more older people received disproportionately more money, while resources were moved away from younger, poorer areas. 

This was an act of grotesque political cynicism. It had the effect of redistributing from poorer typically Labour-voting areas to older, wealthier Tory-voting areas. But the other affect was to shift resources away from places with high immigration, since migrants are typically young themselves and have higher fertility rates. It was a far more significant – and cynical – decision than the abolition of the pitiful migrant impact fund. And so reinventing the migrant impact fund is merely tinkering at the edges.  

Similarly, blaming immigration for the housing crisis is easy but wrong. A large number of new arrivals certainly adds to the pressure. But it pales in significance when compared to our abject failure to build enough houses. Britain has roughly double the population of Canada and yet builds just one-third of the new homes every year. The solution to the lack of affordable housing is to build more homes. No immigration policy is going to solve the housing crisis. 

What are the drawbacks?

A devolved immigration system certainly has some drawbacks, both in substance and implementation. As with any sector-based approach to immigration, there is a risk of getting the numbers wrong resulting in skills shortages for employers, or putting firms off from investment by creating uncertainty about the labour supply. Those areas that had decided to introduce particularly draconian controls might find that employers decided to move elsewhere. This is no more true than at a national level, as reports from international firms reconsidering their investments illustrate.  

Operationally, it could become complex and bureaucratic. The foolish dismantling of the Government Digital Service has seriously eroded central government’s capacity and capability to do things in an efficient, modern way. As with all immigration systems, people will be tempted to abuse it, and it would need to be robustly policed. Moreover, this system would place greater responsibilities on employers - they would have to face stiffer penalties if they abused – or permitted abuse to take place – the system. Part of the price would be the inevitable steady drumbeat of stories in the xenophobic parts of the press finding people working where they were not registered. But these drawbacks – whilst important – are massively outweighed by the benefits. 

Immigration and the Brexit deal

The international response to the government’s strident signals about immigration control has been fiercely negative. The hostility of tone – verging on xenophobia – was regarded with shock and disgust in many European capitals. The political dynamic between British politicians and their European counterparts has quickly become toxic. We are heading down the path of "Mutually Assured Destruction" (MAD). 

For the most part, European leaders see the EU as an inextricable part of their national interests, which is precisely why its preservation is top of their agenda. Right now, their judgement seems to be that Britain must be seen to be worse off because of Brexit in order to prevent the Exit contagion catching, just as they were determined to punish Greece so that the debt crisis would not spread to Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. After all, as Nigel Farage himself pointed out, there are somethings that are more important that GDP, and most European leaders believe preservation of the EU falls into that category. 

Speaking privately, one European cabinet minister recently told me that his country would be pushing for the “worst possible deal” for the UK because “a good deal for you would cause chaos for us, and even if you were seen to be treated fairly, that would push us towards the exit door”. At present, the mindset is that Britain must be seen to pay a price, and there is a very real risk that the EU forces us to choose between our car industry and our financial services sector. This is yet another reason that we need to be seeking common ground, not pursuing a divisive approach in the country or internationally.  

A devolved immigration system might enable EU leaders to say that free movement had been secured because it would continue in London and Scotland (and possibly in other regions too) along with nationwide “cultural free movement”. Given their fidelity to the principle of free movement, it would still require them to make quite a departure from their existing position. But in a devolved immigration system, we might just find our common ground. That, perhaps combined with paying a hefty fee, might be just about enough to secure our access to the single market and participation in some of its key institutions – vital if we are to be regulation makers rather than takers – or at the very least tariff-free trade for tradable goods and passporting for the City of London. It would certainly be a more attractive offer than us pulling up the drawbridge or being "pro having our cake and pro eating it".

Finally, there is a wider issue at stake here. As we enter into the negotiations, we will need much more smart thinking about nuanced solutions. At the present, our political leaders – on left and right – appear to be spending more time posturing and swaggering than thinking. Our Conservative Prime Minister and recently re-elected opposition leader are sacrificing the national interest on the altar of party management, the perpetual problem in British politics. We should demand Smart Brexit, and we should demand more creative thinking from our government, its leaders, advisers and officials. In this period of turmoil, the British people deserve nothing less.    

Tom Kibasi is the Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research.