Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at dinner for Singapore Prime Minister (Lee Kuan Yew)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: 1945 onwards.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 754
Themes: Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Asia)

Lee Kuan YewPrime Minister, Mrs. Lee, your Excellencies, my Lords, ladies and gentlemen.

First may I welcome you, Mrs. Lee and the distinguished members of your delegation very warmly to no. 10 Downing Street. It is not, of course, your first official visit to our country. But it does have particular significance because it falls in the twenty-fifth anniversary year of Singapore's independence, and is therefore an occasion to celebrate the enormous progress which your country has seen in that period.

Singapore has become a byword for excellence, whether it be in education, in commerce, in high technology, in your city administration and plans for traffic management which others are now copying. Very great credit for that success is due to you personally, to the leadership and to the vision which you have always shown. [end p1]

We find it a little hard to believe that, after so many years you are intending to step down as Prime Minister. I hope it isn't catching! but we understand that you intend to continue to serve in the government. That will ensure that Singapore's achievements will continue and be built upon, following the principles in which you have always believed: effort, initiative, endeavour, enterprise.

One only has to visit Singapore to sense how every inch of your small territory pulsates with the energy, vitality and determination of your people. We would like to think that some of that success stems from Singapore's early links with Britain, from Sir Stamford Raffles onward.

When he established the port of Singapore in 1823, he laid down regulations which state: “the port of Singapore is a free port, and the trade thereof is open to ships and vessels of every nation … equally and alike to all.” that spirit and that belief in free trade has endured in [end p2] Singapore and is shared by Britain—and is more important than ever now in the face of protectionism and the tendency to establish blocs of countries which are more concerned with their internal trading arrangements than with keeping markets open to the whole world. Both our countries have flourished because we have always supported free trade. There is no doubt that Britain is the most open country in the European community to trade and investment from the rest of the world, and Singapore is the same in asia.

When we talked at Chequers on Friday, you said that you were worried that Britain would not be part of the inner circle of the European Community. Well, you know, we often do have to start from a rather lonely position of arguing our point of view in a minority, sometimes a minority of one. But we are usually right—whether it be on the agricultural surpluses, on the Community's financial arrangements, on the single market, and now on [end p3] the importance of making a success of the gatt negotiations—and the community usually ends up fairly close to our point of view. So I wouldn't be too worried: what is most important is that Britain should continue to fight for the right causes, within the European Community, the causes in which both our countries believe. when it comes to relations with the rest of the world, and particularly countries like Singapore which have a great tradition of open-ness and free markets, Britain's record is second to none.

Prime Minister there is a story that, when you left Cambridge, your tutor said: “well, Harry, when you get back to Singapore, I hope you'll keep the flag flying” and that you replied: “when I get back, I will make it my duty to get the flag down!” you succeeded in that, as in so many other tasks to which you put your hand, and you instead ran up Singapore's flag, which has now flown so [end p4] proudly for twenty-five years. Those of us who have been present at Commonwealth Prime ministers' meetings will always remember your penetrating contributions to our discussions—never being satisfied with the conventional wisdom, but always putting new and interesting thoughts, while reminding us of the basic principles of which too often we tend to lose sight. It has earned you and Singapore very great respect. Indeed may I say there is no other Prime Minister whom I have admired more for: — The strength of his convictions — The clarity of his views — The directness of his speech — And his vision of the way ahead.

We all of us thank you for what you have done—for Singapore, for Britain, for the Commonwealth and for all those who believe in enterprise and excellence. [end p5]

May I ask you all to rise and drink a toast to the Prime Minister of Singapore, to his great achievements, and to the continued success and prosperity of Singapore.