A surprise revelation that United States' military help to Britain by General Al Haig in the 1982 Falklands Conflict was a vital factor in the controversial Westland Helicopter crisis four years later has been made by Michael Heseltine. He resigned as Secretary for Defence in 1986 in protest at Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's handling of the Westland dispute, which also threatened to force her resignation.
In a bitter attack on Margaret Thatcher's leadership, in his memoirs just published, Mr Heseltine accuses Margaret Thatcher of backing a United States bid for Westland helicopters as part of a "payback" deal with the former American Secretary of State, General Haig, who claimed credit for providing United States radar cover for the Falklands Task Force.
Mr Heseltine suggests that this was Lady Thatcher's secret "motivation" in backing an American take-over of Westland helicopters by the big helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky to rescue the British firm from bankruptcy. "What none of us realised at the time", Mr Heseltine writes," was that she had been telephoned by General Haig, now a senior adviser to Sikorsky's parent company, and, as he admitted later, he was ?calling in my markers'(for his Falklands help). This though was never revealed to us as the ministerial debate on Westland continued".
As American Secretary of State in 1982, General Haig had first attempted to mediate between Britain and Argentina to prevent the conflict, but later the US Government backed Britain to secure defeat of the Argentine invasion force. This victory greatly strengthened Margaret Thatcher's position as Prime Minister and helped her win the subsequent General Election. But Mrs Thatcher expressed annoyance at the time with General Haig's attempts to mediate a solution making concessions to General Galtieri's Junta.
The Westland controversy also resulted in the resignation of a second Cabinet Minister, Trade and Industry Secretary, Leon Brittan, who supported Margaret Thatcher against Michael Heseltine's criticisms and his campaign to include Westland in a European Consortium rather than in Sikorsky, in what Mr Heseltine describes as "the most powerful storm in my political life".
Mr Heseltine's revelations are published in the Daily Mail newspaper under a banner headline: "Thatcher, cheating and why I quit..." He was to get his revenge in 1990 when his bid to replace Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister and Conservative Party Leader forced her resignation. Mr Heseltine writes: "Mrs Thatcher had gone, and it was as though the poison had been let out of the system"
Lady Thatcher has declined to comment on Mr Heseltine