Sir Edward Heath is dead

SIR Edward Heath, the Prime Minister who took Britain into a simple trading block known as the Common Market but who acknowledged later that it was a political entity, died last night aged 89.

By Graham Dines

SIR Edward Heath, the Prime Minister who took Britain into a simple trading block known as the Common Market but who acknowledged later that it was a political entity, died last night aged 89.

Two years' ago, he suffered a pulmonary embolism while holidaying in Australia and never seem to recover fully.

Sir Edward was well enough to celebrate his birthday with a party only last week but in the past few days had become considerably weaker.

Sir Edward, who spent more than half a century as an MP, had been resting quietly at the home in the cathedral close in Salisbury when he passed away at 7.30pm.

Although in Downing Street for less than four years after sensationally winning the 1970 General Election, his legacy is assured as the Prime Minister who persuaded Britain to join the European Economic Community.

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His determination to see a closer, more united Europe, arose from his experiences in the Army in World War II. Like the founding fathers of the Common Market, he believed Europe had to be saved from yet another devastating conflict and that trade and ultimately closer political co-operation would be the saviours of the continent.

Sir Edward led the Tories in four General Elections, but three of them ended in defeat. After the last, in October 1974, he was challenged for the Tory leadership by Margaret Thatcher, and after she defeated him, he began "the "longest sulk in history."

Last night, there were warm words from Baroness Thatcher for her predecessor. "Ted Heath was a political giant.

"He was also, in every sense, the first modern Conservative leader –by his humble background, his grammar school education and by the fact of his democratic election.

"A Prime Minister, he was confronted by the enormous problems of post-war Britain. If those problems eventually defeated him, he had shown in the 1970 manifesto how they, in turn, would eventually be defeated.

"For that, and much else besides, we are all in his debt."

Former Labour MP Tony Benn said of Sir Edward: "He was a reminder of the tradition of one-nation Conservatism which had served the party well in the past."

The son of a housemaid and a carpenter, Sir Edward became the Tories' first "working class" Prime Minister in 1970.

His time in No 10 was marked by a confrontational approach to pay and the unions which resulted in numerous strikes. With the country on a three-day week and rubbish piling up in the streets the miners threatened to bring his government down.

In February 1974 Sir Edward called an election asking "who governs Britain?"' and did not get the answer he had hoped for.

Edward Heath entered Parliament as an MP in February 1950 and only stood down at the 2001 election, 11 years after becoming Father of the House, the longest continually serving MP.

He was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Garter, the most senior order of chivalry, in 1992 but refused a move to the Lords.

A bachelor, Sir Edward's chief loves were music and sailing, in which he competed at international level, captaining Britain's winning Admiral Cup team as Prime Minister in 1971.

Sir Edward's funeral will be held at Salisbury Cathedral at 2.30pm on Monday July 28. No tickets are required.

His death, just months after that James Callaghan, mean there are two just former living Prime Ministers – Baroness Thatcher and Sir John Major.

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