It had been the life’s goal of Edward Heath, Britain’s Tory prime minister, to get his country into Europe. In 1972, he fulfilled this goal which had eluded his two predecessors through a personal friendship with French president Pompidou (the only smooth one between a British prime minister and a French president since the Fifth Republic began). Then he had to fight an uphill battle in the Parliament, and won the Commons vote by a majority of 112, with the votes of 69 Labour MPs, who defied a three-line whip.
However, when Heath arrived at the Palais d’Egmont in Brussels to sign the Treaty of Accession on 22nd January 1972, he was splattered with ink thrown by a tourist. The 31-year-old psychologist named Karen Cooper, was not protesting the treaty but Heath government’s handling of an urban renewal project in London’s historic Covent Garden market. The leaders of Ireland, Denmark and Norway who were there to sign the treaty also had to wait an hour for Heath to return to his hotel and change clothes.
It wasn’t the first time ink had been thrown upon Heath. On his very first day as Prime Minister, Heath–who surprisingly turned a Labour majority of nearly 100 into a Tory one of 30–was attacked with ink by a Labour supporter. A man of sharp contradictions, Heath left behind a divisive legacy: while he was able to count on bipartisan support for Europe, Heath had a tumultuous rule at home. His Irish policy was disastrous and his bitter relations with the unions led to a wage freeze, a deranged Prices and Incomes policy and eventually a three-day energy-saving week.
By the time an early General Election had to be called in February 1974, Heath was finished. He was replaced by Margaret Thatcher, under whom he refused to serve. Ted Heath never forgave Mrs Thatcher and the bitterness over his loss of the leadership was deep, reflected in almost ceaseless, and sometimes savage, attacks on her policies. In probably the most vicious and insulting blast of all, he suggested in a television interview in April 1992 that she would be no more than a footnote in history.
Heath was a former schoolmaster and Britain’s only bachelor prime minister to date. A keen yachtsman, in 1971, while Prime Minister, he captained Britain’s winning Admiral’s Cup team. Heath later also became the only prime minister to be summoned before an official tribunal and made to account for his actions when he was in office. It was the Saville Inquiry into the Bloody Sunday in Londonderry a week after Egmont signing (but unrelated).