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Former British Treasury chief Geoffrey Howe dies at 88

Former UK finance and foreign minister Geoffrey Howe has died. A champion of European unity in a largely euroskeptic Conservative Party, Howe also played a role in bringing about the downfall of Margaret Thatcher.

Howe died late on Friday night, having succumbed to a suspected heart attack, his family said on Saturday.

The former chancellor of the exchequer, who also served as Britain's foreign minister, was the longest-serving member of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's cabinet, between 1979 and 1990.

Prime Minister David Cameron called his fellow Conservative "the quiet hero of the first Thatcher government." He lauded Howe's action to lift exchange controls as a crucial move that helped save Britain's economy in the 1980s.

"His time as chancellor of the exchequer was vital in turning the fortunes of our country around, cutting borrowing, lowering tax rates and conquering inflation," said Cameron.

Hit for six by speech

However, Howe was perhaps more notable for his part in Thatcher's political downfall. During her second term in office, Howe was appointed foreign secretary but resigned in 1990.

His resignation speech to fellow lawmakers was profoundly damaging to Thatcher, using a cricket analogy to condemn her for undermining policies on European economic and monetary union.

"It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only to find... that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain," he said. Thatcher resigned less than a month later, after she was challenged for the leadership by pro-European Michael Heseltine.

The "Iron Lady" was not the only victim of Howe's verbal assaults. Former Labour Party Finance Minister Denis Healey, who also died earlier this month, once described a rhetorical onslaught from Howe as akin to being "savaged by a dead sheep."

rc/cmk (AP, AFP, Reuters)