The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Statement in Downing Street – 18 July 1991

Below is the text of Mr Major’s statement given in London on Thursday 18th July 1991.


Mr President, Mrs Gorbachev, colleagues and friends from the Soviet Union, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome to luncheon today at Downing Street.

We have a long tradition in London of welcoming the leaders of revolutions. Today I believe we have the enormous privilege of welcoming a man who has led one of the most remarkable revolutions of our century, and you are, Sir, immensely welcome.

We take a great deal for granted. We have now come to take for granted freedom in Eastern Europe: we have come to take for granted German reunification: we have taken in our stride the demilitarisation of the Warsaw Pact; we have got used to talking of the Soviet Union as a friend and not as an opponent. And if may say so, since I see him here today, in Ambassador Zamyatin we have come to know a very true friend during his period in the United Kingdom.

The events of the last few years have shown triumphs of the human spirit, they owed much to the pressure for change from within the Soviet Union and from outside the Soviet Union. But I believe that there was more to it than that. There are occasionally in our history, in our world, not just our domestic history, individuals who shaped the course of that history and you, Mr President, are one of them. You have had in recent years the wisdom and the vision to see the trend of events, you have had the enormous courage to defy the traditions and dogma of half a century and you have had the political skill, the political determination and the courage to carry that vision into reality.

May I say, Mr President, also because I am delighted to see her here as a guest this afternoon, that my predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, has many of those same characteristics and I believe that the joint relationship that you and she struck up in the early 1980s played an immensely important part in the rapprochement between East and West over recent years and I believe history will record that fact very clearly indeed.

I believe it is very hard to over-estimate the transformation that this change in relationships has brought about to world affairs. Just about a decade ago every international issue was a battleground of ideology. The watchword those days seemed to be problem making and not necessarily problem solving. And yet as a result of these changes we have seen in the last few years, the position is dramatically transformed. In the Middle East, in Southern Africa, elsewhere we are enjoying a whole new experience of cooperation between East and West at solving problems and not creating them.

Perhaps in recent years the classic illustration of this was Iraq, an illustration of cooperation in the interests of safeguarding the communal peace. The Permanent Five members of the Security Council now work together as partners, it is I believe a most effective partnership and we hope it will be the driving force behind the regeneration of the United Nations in the years before us.

That transformation, Mr President, was reflected clearly and unmistakably in the meeting which you had yesterday with leaders of the Group of Seven, a meeting foreshadowed by my predecessor in her remarkable speech at Aspen last year. And last night we here in the very next room around the table here in Downing Street to talk about world issues.

People perhaps expect that. What, had they been present, they would not have expected quite so much was the immense extent to which the leaders there knew one another and enjoyed themselves as they discussed matters that were of both national and international importance. And I believe that closeness of personal relationship is a matter that can make more people sleep comfortably in their beds than would have been the case many years ago.

We recognise. Mr President, we present who are the well-wishers of the Soviet Union, we recognise that your country faces formidable challenges. formidable political challenges and equally formidable economic challenges and the vastness of the task before you makes it difficult for us to know precisely where best we can give our help. But I believe there is a common determination to help, not just in this country where I can promise you that determination is very real, but amongst all of us in the G7. And to do so not just in terms of words but in practical ways, through technical assistance, through links between the Soviet Union, the IMF, the OECD, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Sank itself,

We recognise there is no magic prescription either within the Soviet Union or beyond the Soviet Union. But there is I think a world of difference in attitude, a world of difference between polite, dispassionate applause and the aggressive engagement of countries throughout the world who see themselves as we do, as friends of the Soviet Union committed to the success of the reforms in the Soviet Union.

And that partnership, that new and growing partnership characterises our bilateral relationships as well. Many of my guests here today, Mr President, are very closely involved in British cooperation with the Soviet Union, cooperation which can only grow as we wish to see it grow as a result of the processes of reform. Given the right environment, British companies will be keen to increase their investment, keen to help mobilise your country’s great reservoir of human skills and natural resources and you and many others in authority throughout the Soviet Union are I know striving even now to create precisely that environment.

The people in this room and millions I believe beyond it, Mr President, want to take part in your transformation to a market economy. I believe a lot of our own experience will be relevant to you as well, so we are helping in that transformation, in projects like food distribution, energy, financial services and the creation of small businesses. And British companies, I am delighted to say, are directly involved and the presence here of many of our leaders of commerce and industry illustrates that point very clearly. For this is a partnership in perestroika, a partnership from which both of us and both our countries have a great deal to gain.

No-one here has any illusions, a hard road lies ahead for the Soviet Union. Democracy, as Winston Churchill once memorably said, is the worst form of government except For all the forms we have tried in our history. You, Mr President, know that the Soviet Union has tried other forms and has found them wanting. And you, Mr President, had the courage to recognise that and to recognise the hardship and injustice which other nations had incurred as a result of that.

In today’s world the fates of East and West, of North and South cannot be divorced, they are bound together inextricably in the decisions that are made by the great nations. Yesterday in London we showed that that was understood fully in the West as well, in the meeting that you had with the leaders of the Group of Seven. It is my belief that that meeting marks a new chapter in Soviet relations with the industrialised Western world.

Today in London we are forging a further link in that relationship , a further link in the chain of Anglo-Soviet friendship and cooperation in the future. I believe it is a link that will be immensely warmly welcomed in this country and I have no doubt from what you have had to say to me this morning, immensely warmly welcomed throughout the Soviet Union as well.

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, we have some very welcome guests here today, may I ask you to rise and drink to President Gorbachev and to Mrs Gorbachev, to the people of the Soviet Union and to friendship and partnership between our two great countries. The President and Mrs Gorbachev.