Ministers considered ordering an emergency recall of Parliament to pass a new law giving extra powers for soldiers to replace striking workers, papers from 1984 made public by the National Archives disclose
Margaret Thatcher came within days of declaring a state of emergency and calling out the military just four months into the miners’ strike, Cabinet papers released on Friday show.
Ministers secretly discussed recalling Parliament in the summer of 1984 so they could urgently pass a new Emergency Powers Act that would give wider scope for troops to stand in for striking dockers.
At the same time Norman Tebbit, the trade and industry secretary, privately warned the prime minister that diminishing coal stocks meant that the Government could soon be forced into making humiliating concessions to Arthur Scargill to end his union’s industrial action.
However, privately they feared that a widespread escalation of the strike into other industries could bring Britain grinding to a halt and leave Ministers at the mercy of the union barons.
Ronald Reagan, one of Mrs Thatcher’s closest allies, sent her a private cable of support at this point, when she came closest to defeat in her defining battle with the miners.
The American president wrote: “I just wanted you to know that my thoughts are with you as you address these important issues. I’m confident as ever that you and your government will come out of this well.”
Ministers were so alarmed when dockers’ union leaders called a national walkout in July 1984 that plans were drawn up for thousands of troops to commandeer lorries to move vital supplies of food and coal around the country.
Mrs Thatcher said shipowners had privately told her that the scale of the dock strike was “greater than they had ever witnessed before”, making it impossible to move any containers.
Her Ministers were nervous that calling out the Army could make matters worse and feared that declaring a state of emergency could be seen as a “sign of weakness”, the previously secret documents released by the National Archives in Kew, south-west London disclose.
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