Thatcher government tried to block Soviet support for striking miners

The Northern Echo: Margaret Thatcher Margaret Thatcher

MARGARET Thatcher’s government was desperate to stop Soviet cash reaching striking miners, according to newly-released files.

Ministers believed hundreds of thousands of pounds were being channelled from Moscow to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the official papers show.

But even though the union’s assets had been sequestered by the courts after Arthur Scargill, its president, refused to allow it to pay a £200,000 fine for contempt, officials admitted there was little they could do to stop the flow of roubles.

Mrs Thatcher was told the best they could hope for was that an NUM courier might be picked up by Customs trying to enter the country with “a suitcase full of bank notes”.

MI5 alerted ministers to the miners’ Soviet lifeline in November 1984, just days before a Soviet news agency reported £500,000 had been raised to support the industrial action.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong wrote: “There are no powers which could be used to prevent the transfer of funds from abroad to the NUM or to somebody nominated to receive them on behalf of the NUM in this country.

“If a representative of the NUM could be detected entering this country with a suitcase full of bank notes, it might be possible to arrange for him to be stopped and searched by Customs.”

However, ministers refused to give up.

Industry minister Norman Lamont was instructed to discuss the issue at a private lunch with the Soviet ambassador in London, but he got nowhere.

Finally, Mrs Thatcher raised the issue with Mikhail Gorbachev during his historic first visit to Britain in December 1984.

But despite Mrs Thatcher declaring the future Soviet leader was a man she could “do business with”, she made little headway.

“Mr Gorbachev asked whether the Prime Minister really believed that Soviet Communists were so strong as to be able to keep the British miners out on strike for over ten months. The problem was purely a British one,” the official minute noted.

Durham Miners’ Association secretary Dave Hopper said Mrs Thatcher had tried her best to stop the support coming in, but the international solidarity of miners was unique.

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