MT's official files as Prime Minister, 1979-90

MT's official files as PM can be read on this site as they are released, in full and free to all - the confidential files originally stored at No.10, the core record of her premiership.

This is the first time in Britain - in fact as far as we can tell, in any country - that the declassified archive of a head of government has ever been published in full, paper or online.

The files have been copied at the British National Archives (TNA) at Kew in London and can be downloaded precisely as they appear in the reading room.

We are doing something more to help people make sense of this mass of information. The files are subject-based, logically enough, but that system makes it difficult to reconstruct the flow of paper across the Prime Minister’s desk at any point in time, depriving us of a sense of context and cross-winds, some of them overwhelming.

To combat this effect we are uploading a large selection of the most important documents from these files – thousands in total - to our powerful site database. You can search and sort by date, subject and other parameters, getting as close as anyone can now get to reconstructing the Prime Minister’s daily "Red Boxes", the rich diet of foreign and domestic policy papers submitted to her by the No.10 Private Office.

list & links to the PM's files

Secret no more

Below are links to the downloadable files in numerical order. The subject terms are those used in the original filing system. Files held back from release are listed in red.

An average file has around 200 pages.

You can read here an account of how filing worked at No.10, and the system for archiving MT's Prime Ministerial papers, both of which had their quirks.

Some of these downloads are very big, as large as 75MB, though most are in the range 1-10MB. To keep sizes down, images have been compressed, though legibility should never be a problem. High quality copies can also be supplied, where a need is established, on application to the site editor.

Where documents within a file have been selected for the site database, they can easily be viewed by clicking the link after the file name ("Selected PREM19/959"), as well as via conventional searches from the archive search screen. Over time most files will have had documents selected in this way, but it will take time and care is being taken not to allow the site database to become so large as to be unmanageable.

You can sort each column by clicking on its title in bold at the top, a powerful tool to find all the files on a particular subject over several years.

You can also search the list from the box on the right. The term "Public Spending", for example, will produce all the parts of the main file on that topic.

Chancellor of the Exchequer's Private Office files, 1979-89

1979-89: Chancellor's Private Office files [links to hundreds of digitised files from the Chancellorships of Sir Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson]

engagement diaries

An alternative way through the material is to read MT's engagement diaries, jumping day to day.

The engagement diaries link directly to relevant documents in the site database, so this is a good way to recover the perspective from the Red Box.


File name Titlesort ascending Begins Ends Date of release Any docs withheld? File classification Pages
PREM19/4 Civil Service (Dispersal) (Part 1) Begins: 1979 May 22 Ends: 1979 Oct 15 Date of release: 2009 Dec 30 File classification: Confidential Pages: 109
PREM19/3235 Civil Service (Dispersal policy: transfer of government work to the regions) (Part 5) Begins: 1990 Mar 1 Ends: 1991 Feb 28 Date of release: 2017 Jul 20 File classification: Confidential Pages: 387
PREM19/2922 Civil Service (Dispersal policy: transfer of government work to the regions) (Part 4) Begins: 1988 Apr 5 Ends: 1990 Feb 28 Date of release: 2017 Jul 20
PREM19/3628 Civil Service (Civil Service manpower: early retirement) (Part 5) Begins: 1990 Aug 1 Ends: 1992 Nov 10 Date of release: 2017 Dec 29 File classification: Secret Pages: 95
PREM19/1687 Civil Service (Civil servants' outside interests: acceptance of non-executive directorships; possible publication of essay by Michael Quinlan on the ethics of nuclear deterrence) Begins: 1984 Jan 31 Ends: 1986 Aug 5 Date of release: 2014 Dec 30
PREM19/4530 Civil Service (Civil servants contacts with members of the opposition and members of parliament) (Part 1) Begins: 1980 Jan 24 Ends: 1994 Apr 21 Date of release: 2018 Dec 28
PREM19/7 Civil Service (Christmas Message) Begins: 1979 Nov 20 Ends: 1979 Nov 26 Date of release: 2009 Dec 30 File classification: Confidential Pages: 4
PREM19/1429 Civil Service (Assassination and death in service: policy on compensation for civil servants' families) Begins: 1984 May 21 Ends: 1985 Nov 20 Date of release: 2014 Dec 30 Any docs withheld? 24 File classification: Confidential Pages: 110
PREM19/2600 Civil Service (Annual scrutiny of departmental running costs: Andrew Report on the 'Review of Government Legal Services') (Part 4) Begins: 1989 Jan 13 Ends: 1989 Jul 21 Date of release: 2016 Dec 30 File classification: Confidential Pages: 23
PREM19/3626 China (Visits to the UK by Vice Premiers of China: meetings with Chinese Foreign Ministers) Begins: 1980 May 8 Ends: 1992 Nov 17 Date of release: 2017 Dec 29 File classification: Confidential Pages: 185
PREM19/1426 China (Visit to UK by Chinese Prime Minister, Zhao Ziyang, June 1985: meetings with Prime Minister) (Part 2) Begins: 1982 Jul 19 Ends: 1985 Jun 21 Date of release: 2014 Dec 30 File classification: Secret Pages: 285
PREM19/2036 China (UK/Chinese relations) (Part 4) Begins: 1986 Jun 2 Ends: 1987 Jun 19 Date of release: 2020 Dec 30
PREM19/3234 China (UK/Chinese relations) (Part 5) Begins: 1987 May 22 Ends: 1991 Feb 28 Date of release: Date of release: Temporarily Retained by Department
PREM19/2921 China (Sino-Soviet relations: visits by Edward Heath MP) Begins: 1979 May 15 Ends: 1990 Jan 15 Date of release: 2017 Jul 20
PREM19/1425 China (Sino-British relations; defence sales) (Part 2) Begins: 1984 Mar 19 Ends: 1985 May 31 Date of release: 2014 Dec 30 Any docs withheld? 4 File classification: Secret Pages: 236