1983 – UK Archives release files after 20-years

Cabinet Office file showing the balance of forces on the Central Front (catalogue reference: CAB 129/216a)

01 August 2013

Hundreds of files from 1983 have been released to the UK National Archives today as the government begins the ten-year transition to a 20-year rule, down from 30 years, for transfer and release.

Two years’ worth of UK government records will be released every year until 2022 and files from 1984 will be released by December. Read more about the 20-year rule.

The latest files detail the end of Mrs Thatcher’s first term in office as victory in the Falklands War helped propel her to a second successive election triumph in June 1983.

At home, the Prime Minister faced an uncertain economic outlook while the US-led invasion of Grenada was one of a number of foreign policy challenges that year. The Cold War became colder with the arrival of American cruise missiles in Greenham Common amid a general deterioration in East-West relations.

View a selection of the newly-released UK Cabinet Office and UK Prime Minister’s Office files, the key events of 1983 and changes to the British Cabinet in 1983.

  • Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
  • Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe
  • Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson
  • Lord Chancellor Lord Hailsham
  • Home Secretary Leon Brittan
  • Secretary of Statefor Health and Social Security Norman Fowler
  • Secretary of State for Defence Michael Heseltine
  • Secretary of State for Scotland George Younger
  • Secretary of State for Employment Tom King
  • Secretary of State for Education and Science Sir Keith Joseph
  • Secretary of State for Wales Nicholas Edwards
  • Secretary of State for Trade (Trade & Industry) Norman Tebbit
  • Secretary of State for Industry Patrick Jenkin
  • Secretary of State for the Environment Patrick Jenkin
  • Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Prior
  • Secretary of State for Energy Peter Walker
  • Paymaster-General Cecil Parkinson
  • Chief Secretary to the Treasury Peter Rees
  • Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons William Whitelaw
  • Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords John Biffen
  • Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Lord Cockfield
  • Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food Michael Jopling

Key events of 1983

25 October: American forces invade the Commonwealth island of Grenada.


GRENADA. Power struggle; US-led invasion; position of Governor-General; attitude of HMG; part 1

  • Catalogue ref: PREM 19/1048
  • Date: 29 March 1983 – 27 October 1983

This file deals with the fast-moving diplomatic and military situation sparked by the assassination of the Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop on 19 October and subsequent US-led invasion of Grenada. In a telegram to the British Embassy in Washington, Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe expressed concern about the possibility of American intervention on the island, something he and his colleagues thought could not ‘be justified internationally unless it was required to save lives’. The file includes the text of a statement the Prime Minister delivered to the House of Commons on 24 October on which she has written: ‘No reason to think that military intervention is likely to take place’. However, on the same evening the Prime Minister received a message from President Reagan indicating he had decided to ‘give serious consideration’ to a request from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) for support. A second message from Reagan confirmed the US intention to ‘respond positively’ to the request. The Prime Minister’s written response, included in the file, lays out her serious doubts about the venture. She wrote: ‘I cannot conceal that I am deeply disturbed by your latest comments. You asked for my advice. I have set it out and hope that even at this late stage you will take it into account before events are irrevocable’. The Prime Minister also spoke to the President over the secure line at 00:48 on the same evening but the President confirmed that US forces were ‘already at zero’. Another message from Reagan justifies the US action by stating that Grenada had been taken over by ‘Leftist thugs’ and ‘the alternative to decisive action on our part’ would have been the imposition of a regime ‘inimical to our interests’. The file also contains a briefing from Mrs Thatcher’s Foreign Policy advisor Anthony Parsons in which he claims the US had been ‘planning the Grenada move for some time’. The file includes a note of a telephone conversation between President Reagan and the Prime Minister on 26 October in which Reagan ‘regretted the embarrassment’ that had been caused and said that ‘worry about leaks’ had been at the root of the American behaviour. He said there was absolutely no lack of confidence in the British government and that this had been the first decision he had taken which had been properly kept secret. Even the military had only been given a matter of hours. The file also conveys reaction to the invasion from around the world.

GRENADA. Power struggle; US-led invasion; position of Governor-General; attitude of HMG; part 2

  • Catalogue ref: PREM 19/1049
  • Date: 28 October 1983 – 16 December 1983

This file continues the correspondence following the US-led invasion of Grenada. It includes the diplomatic aftermath of the invasion, including reports from the UK’s ambassador in Washington, Sir Oliver Wright. Wright described the internal US reaction, where Congress felt ‘collectively insulted by the lack of consultation’, the Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, (‘who has a remarkable nose, political as well as physical’) deplored Reagan’s ‘gunboat diplomacy’, and the media felt it was kept in the dark. The file also contains documents retrieved from Grenada, prior to the overthrow of Bishop, of which a Foreign Office official says, ‘the inexorable build-up of pressure on Bishop to relinquish hold on real power or to see it wrested from him is striking.’


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