EXCL Emily Thornberry: May must apologise to Commonwealth for Thatcher's failure on apartheid

Posted On: 
12th April 2018

Theresa May must apologise to Commonwealth leaders over Margaret Thatcher's failure to impose sanctions on South Africa during the apartheid era, Emily Thornberry has declared.

Emily Thornberry says Lady Thatcher made 'a historic mistake' over South Africa.
PA Images

The Shadow Foreign Secretary said the Prime Minister must "correct that historic mistake" at next week's Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in London.

Lady Thatcher withstood enormous global pressure in the 1980s, including from every other member of the Commonwealth, to impose economic sanctions on the South African government for its anti-black, segregationist policies.

Emily Thornberry angers pro-EU MPs by saying Labour will 'probably' back 'blah blah' Brexit deal

WATCH: John Bercow tears into Boris Johnson over 'sexist' comment to Emily Thornberry

Emily Thornberry defies Jeremy Corbyn and says Russia must 'face the consequences' for spy attack

Her hardline stance led to the majority of eligible nations boycotting the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.

It was even reported at the time that the Queen had considered cancelling her weekly audience with the Prime Minister in protest.

David Cameron apologised to Nelson Mandela in 2006 for the Thatcher government's actions, but writing in The House magazine, Ms Thornberry said that did no go far enough.

She said: "Back then, it was nothing less than our duty to take part in collective action against South Africa, and heed the urgent calls from our Commonwealth partners for the unified imposition of sanctions. But instead, the Thatcher government dismissed them.

"The last Prime Minister, David Cameron, apologised directly to Nelson Mandela in 2006 for his party’s refusal to impose sanctions, but that did not go far enough.

"I believe Theresa May and the Conservative government in Britain also owe an apology to the Commonwealth as a whole – and indeed Her Majesty The Queen – for ignoring the efforts of every other member 30 years ago to bring apartheid to an end."

Ms Thornberry said the move "would send a wider signal to our Commonwealth cousins that we in the UK truly recognise that the days are gone when our union was described – in colonial terms – as the British Commonwealth".


Meanwhile, Shadow International Development Secretary Kate Osamor has said that Prince Charles should not succeed the Queen as the next head of the Commonwealth.

The monarch has had the title since 1952, when she succeeded King George VI upon his death.

But Ms Osamor said Prince Charles should not automatically become the Commonwealth head when he becomes King.

She told The House: "I don’t particularly think it should be him. Not because I have an issue with the Royal Family. I just don’t think it should be him. I don’t really know what he’s been up to of late. He’s not been that vocal on issues.

"But we just need someone who’s level-headed, someone people respect but also someone who thinks outside the box."