Margaret Thatcher’s dislike of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl embarrassed diplomats

Margaret Thatcher’s dislike for German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was so obvious that diplomats found it ‘distressing and embarrassing’, new documents revealed yesterday.

The pair had a notoriously hostile relationship when they were both in power, and used language about each other which shocked diplomats, according to previously classified files which have been made public for the first time.

Foreign Office files from 1990, as East and West Germany prepared for reunification, contained an observation by Robert Zoellick, of the US State Department, that he found the language the pair used about each other ‘very distressing and even embarrassing’.

Mrs Thatcher, later Baroness Thatcher, was deeply opposed to German unification, and the files also contained several warnings that her implacable attitude risked damaging Britain’s international reputation.

Margaret Thatcher's dislike for German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (pictured together) was so obvious that diplomats found it 'distressing and embarrassing', new documents revealed yesterday

Margaret Thatcher's dislike for German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (pictured together) was so obvious that diplomats found it 'distressing and embarrassing', new documents revealed yesterday

Margaret Thatcher’s dislike for German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (pictured together) was so obvious that diplomats found it ‘distressing and embarrassing’, new documents revealed yesterday

A succession of ambassadors urged the prime minister to take a publicly supportive tone amid a flurry of relentlessly critical newspaper headlines in Europe about Mrs Thatcher.

Documents released at the National Archives at Kew, West London, described how her reservations were causing ‘growing resentment’ in Germany, and costing Britain its influence and weight in the ongoing negotiations alongside France and the US.

The files recorded Mr Zoellick telling British ambassador Andrew Wood in January 1990 that he ‘found the language used by Chancellor Kohl and Mrs Thatcher about each other very distressing and even embarrassing’.

Mr Zoellick said the Americans ‘wished the Prime Minister and he could get on better’, adding ‘there was so much (Germany) and Britain could do together which seemed to be compromised by this problem.’

The pair had a notoriously hostile relationship when they were both in power, and used language about each other which shocked diplomats, according to previously classified files which have been made public for the first time

The pair had a notoriously hostile relationship when they were both in power, and used language about each other which shocked diplomats, according to previously classified files which have been made public for the first time

The pair had a notoriously hostile relationship when they were both in power, and used language about each other which shocked diplomats, according to previously classified files which have been made public for the first time

Mrs Thatcher, later Baroness Thatcher, was deeply opposed to German unification, and the files also contained several warnings that her implacable attitude risked damaging Britain's international reputation

Mrs Thatcher, later Baroness Thatcher, was deeply opposed to German unification, and the files also contained several warnings that her implacable attitude risked damaging Britain's international reputation

Mrs Thatcher, later Baroness Thatcher, was deeply opposed to German unification, and the files also contained several warnings that her implacable attitude risked damaging Britain’s international reputation

British ambassador to West Germany Christopher Mallaby told Downing Street ‘Britain’s public standing in Germany is at its lowest for years’ during a dispatch in February 1990.

A month earlier, he warned Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd: ‘Despite our supportive line on the German wish to achieve unity through self-determination, the UK is perceived here as perhaps the least positive of the three western allies, and the least important. Need to present our policy in the most positive light.’ Mr Mallaby said Mrs Thatcher’s view ‘(continues) to be quoted by German commentators as evidence of a negative and mistrustful British attitude’.

Diplomat Pauline Neville-Jones warned in a memo to the Foreign Office how Mrs Thatcher’s reservations continued to cause problems for her reputation internationally.

Documents released at the National Archives at Kew, West London, described how her reservations were causing 'growing resentment' in Germany, and costing Britain its influence and weight in the ongoing negotiations alongside France and the US

Documents released at the National Archives at Kew, West London, described how her reservations were causing 'growing resentment' in Germany, and costing Britain its influence and weight in the ongoing negotiations alongside France and the US

Documents released at the National Archives at Kew, West London, described how her reservations were causing ‘growing resentment’ in Germany, and costing Britain its influence and weight in the ongoing negotiations alongside France and the US

Thatcher and  Kohl ouside 10 Downing Street in October 1982

Thatcher and  Kohl ouside 10 Downing Street in October 1982

Thatcher and  Kohl ouside 10 Downing Street in October 1982

Referencing one uncomplimentary newspaper article, Mrs Neville-Jones wrote: ‘Bild goes on to suggest facetiously that if Mrs Thatcher has her way, the London Association of Taxi Drivers, the Soho Pigeon Breeders’ Union, the Scottish Whisky lobby, and the Association for the Support of Loch Ness will also have to be consulted.

‘The Prime Minister’s reservations (are) now causing growing resentment… (and) attracting widespread criticism.

‘Since the beginning of February, the country’s major tabloid (Bild) has been running a sustained campaign.

‘The tone is deplorable. But damage is being done.’

'The Prime Minister's reservations (are) now causing growing resentment... (and) attracting widespread criticism. 'Since the beginning of February, the country's major tabloid (Bild) has been running a sustained campaign. 'The tone is deplorable. But damage is being done.'

'The Prime Minister's reservations (are) now causing growing resentment... (and) attracting widespread criticism. 'Since the beginning of February, the country's major tabloid (Bild) has been running a sustained campaign. 'The tone is deplorable. But damage is being done.'

‘The Prime Minister’s reservations (are) now causing growing resentment… (and) attracting widespread criticism. ‘Since the beginning of February, the country’s major tabloid (Bild) has been running a sustained campaign. ‘The tone is deplorable. But damage is being done.’

German chancellor Helmut Kohl and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, holding a press conference at 10 Downing Street in 1983

German chancellor Helmut Kohl and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, holding a press conference at 10 Downing Street in 1983

German chancellor Helmut Kohl and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, holding a press conference at 10 Downing Street in 1983

Thatcher and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl at press conference, showing frosty body language

Thatcher and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl at press conference, showing frosty body language

Thatcher and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl at press conference, showing frosty body language

The pair was pictured together frequently in October 1982

The pair was pictured together frequently in October 1982

The pair was pictured together frequently in October 1982

The unification treaty – putting an end to East and West Germany – was signed in August that year, ending the division between the communist and capitalist neighbours that had existed since the end of the Second World War.

Commenting on the files, Dr Juliette Desplat, head of modern overseas, intelligence and security records at the National Archives, said: ‘I think the UK was perceived in Germany as being the most reluctant of the four powers.

‘I’m not sure what Mrs Thatcher privately thought but there was certainly a divergence between those in the field and people at Number 10.’

Dr Desplat said the mutual dislike between Mrs Thatcher and Mr Kohl boiled down to a clash of personalities.

‘They didn’t get on at all,’ she said.

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