Page last updated at 18:01 GMT, Wednesday, 9 December 2009

13 November 1990: Sir Geoffrey Howe resigns


House of Commons

Sir Geoffrey Howe delivered his resignation speech to a packed House of Commons, handing out a withering and devastating critique of Margaret Thatcher's style of government.

Sir Geoffrey's resignation was said to have come as a great surprise to the prime minister who accepted it "more in sorrow than in anger". He was Mrs Thatcher's longest serving minister and the last member of the original 1979 Cabinet to leave.

He had come to blows with Mrs Thatcher over her policies on Europe and opposition to a single European currency. But his resignation was also a result of exasperation with her style of leadership.

The unpopular poll tax led to significant Labour gains in the polls. There was widespread discontent within the party - which, by this point, was staring electoral defeat in the face.

Sir Geoffrey's resignation delivered the fatal blow to Mrs Thatcher's premiership. It was seen as a rallying cry to Michael Heseltine - Mrs Thatcher's long-time adversary - and others within the party to push for change.

Sir Geoffrey Howe legitimised the unthinkable: to topple a leader who had brought the party three consecutive electoral victories. Within days a leadership challenge was mounted and the Iron Lady's tenure brought to an end.

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