WorldTies: Sir Edward Heath, Europhile Prime Minister, dies at home
Story in full SIR Edward Heath, the former Conservative prime minister who led Britain into what became the European Union, died at his home last night.
The veteran politician was well enough to celebrate his 89th birthday with a party only last week, but he had "recently become considerably weaker", a spokesman said yesterday just hours before his death was announced.
Tony Blair and Michael Howard led tributes last night to a politician who led Britain into the Common Market.
"He was a man of great integrity and beliefs he held strongly from which he never wavered," the Prime Minister said. "And he will be remembered by all who knew him as a political leader of great stature and significance."
The Conservative leader, Mr Howard, said: "He will always be remembered as a prime minister who took Britain in to the European Economic Community, but his achievements went far beyond that. His passing will be mourned far and wide."
A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said the Queen had been informed about Sir Edward's death and was "terribly sorry" after hearing the news.
Baroness Thatcher, whose relationship with Sir Edward was famously bitter after she succeeded him as Tory leader, said in a statement: "Ted Heath was a political giant. He was also, in every sense, the first modern Conservative leader - by his humble background, grammar school education and by the fact of his democratic election.
"As 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, we are all in his debt."
Although his office did not specify the nature of the former prime minister's illness, it was known that Sir Edward had experienced trouble with his respiratory system in recent years. While on holiday in Austria two years ago, he was taken ill with what was later diagnosed as a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in the lung.
Outside politics, Mr Heath distinguished himself both as a musician and an international- class yachtsman. While prime minister in 1971, he captained Britain's winning Admiral's Cup team. Two years earlier he won the Sydney to Hobart race.
His musical interests were varied and intense. He took equal pleasure in conducting the Christmas carol concert at Broadstairs, Kent, or holding the baton in front of a symphony orchestra.
First elected to parliament in 1950, Sir Edward retired from active politics only in 2001.
In Downing Street, he set about reversing what he saw as the defeat over Europe, and in 1973 secured British membership of the EEC, a move that was to be endorsed in a referendum only after he had left office.
Despite the lingering controversy of that decision, it was Sir Edward's fractious relations with the trade unions that were to define his government and ultimately to end it.
"Who governs Britain - the unions or the government?" he famously asked as he prepared to embark on a confrontation with the union movement.
In 1970, he declared a state of emergency when dock workers went on strike; the next year, a strike by miners met the same response. But the confrontation coincided with the oil crisis of 1973. Soaring energy prices and industrial unrest forced the government to introduce a three-day working week, and Sir Edward's political fate was sealed.
After the inconclusive election in February 1974, the Tory government was decisively beaten in October that year.
Sir Edward lingered as Conservative leader until he was replaced in 1975 by Margaret Thatcher, whom he regarded with unashamed animosity.
After Mrs Thatcher's 1979 general election win, Sir Edward was offered the job of ambassador to the United States, but declined. Instead, he stayed in the Commons to engage very publicly in what has been called the longest sulk in British political history, very clearly demonstrating his disapproval of his successor and her policies from his seat on the second bench of the Commons.
Robert Key, the MP for Salisbury, suggested Sir Edward's feelings towards Baroness Thatcher had mellowed.
"When he fell out with Margaret Thatcher, I think it was because they were too alike. I believe he did mellow to her. He knew the battle was over."
Former Labour MP Tam Dalyell, who succeeded Sir Edward as Father of the House, praised him for not "going cap in hand to Washington".
"He stood up to American views and wasn't just enchanted by the White House lawn, as so many others were."
The former Conservative chancellor Kenneth Clarke said: "He was a man of integrity and worked for the public good.
"He was often surrounded by his critics, but he was brilliant with dealing with that. He was brilliant at put-downs; he was a very witty man."