De-classified documents have revealed the British government’s shock when it realised Argentina was about to invade the Falkland Islands.
Only two days before troops walked through Stanley did Thatcher and her advisers realise what was about to happen.
In October 1982 she gave evidence behind closed doors to the Falkland Islands Review Committee, set up to analyse what happened.
The transcript is among the papers newly released by the National Archives office at Kew under a 30-year disclosure rule.
In it, Mrs Thatcher says: “I thought that they would be so absurd and ridiculous to invade the Falklands that I did not think it would happen.”
When she was shown raw intelligence suggestion an invasion was imminent, she said, it was “the worst, I think, moment of my life.”
She also said: “That night no-one could tell me whether we could retake the Falklands – no-one. We did not know – we did not know.”
The papers also show that Britain held secret talks near Geneva in the late 1970s. It suggested transferring the islands to Argentina, with the UK retaining sovereignty over the people who lived on them – “for, say, 200 years”.
Foreign minister Nicholas Ridley told an Argentinian military leader: “You would have increasing opportunities of influencing the islanders and opening their minds to cooperation.
“You could fly Argentinian flags on public buildings, and perhaps appoint a high commissioner.”
The Argentinian negotiator said his government had considered something similar, saying, “If Britain were to hand over the islands to Argentina, my government would not extend the same regulations to the islands as the mainland. They would have their own laws, civil service, etc, a bit like Tierre del Fuego.”
The “leaseback” idea was greeted with reluctance in the islands, and hostility in the UK parliament, according to UK Confidential, a special BBC radio programme broadcast on 28 December 2012, the day the papers were released.
On another occasion, Sir Roger Bannister – the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes – reported on meeting a US academic who’d suggested partitioning the islands, with Britain retaining West Falkland while Argentina kept the East – where most of the population lived.
The UK said dividing it the other way round “could be slightly less unattractive.”
The released archives also include a letter to Margaret Thatcher from Sir Rex Hunt, the British governor who stood up to the invaders, and returned to resume his post after the liberation. He wrote:
“I should like to extend my personal thanks and say how grateful I am to you for sending me back to Stanley to finish the job I started two and a half years ago.
“My wife and I were honoured and privileged to be invited to your box at the Trooping of the Colour [the Queen’s birthday ceremony].
“Nothing would give us greater pleasure than to return that hospitality by having you and Mr Thatcher to stay with us at Government House, Stanley.”
The offer was taken up.
Falklands mourn Sir Rex Hunt, hero of the ’82 invasion
I’m not surrendering: voice of the late Sir Rex Hunt
UK Confidential – BBC Radio 4 (available to UK listeners until 3 January 2012)
National Archives: newly-released Falklands papers
Thatcher was ready for Falkland Islands deal, papers show – Guardian website
Falklands invasion ‘surprised’ Thatcher – BBC News