Lord Carrington, Cabinet Minister who resigned over the Falklands War

Born: June 6, 1919;

Died: July 9, 2018.

Lord Carrington, who has died aged 99, was a politician who will be mostly remembered for two key events in his life: brokering the Lancaster House agreement which led to the establishment of Zimbabwe and his resignation over the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands.

He held office under six different Prime Ministers, starting with Churchill in 1951, though he was opposition whip earlier from 1947-51 when Attlee was in power. He was First Lord of the Admiralty from 1959-63, Leader of the Lords for a year from October 1963 to October 1964, Defence Secretary from 1970-74, Energy Secretary (briefly) in 1974, and ended up as Foreign Secretary under Mrs Thatcher from 1979-82.

His Foreign Office experience led to his appointment as Secretary-General of NATO from 1984-88, and he chaired the EC peace conference on Yugoslavia from 1991-92. On the business side, he held a number of senior appointments, most notably as chairman of GEC from 1983-84, chairman of Christie's International plc from 1988-93, and a director of The Telegraph plc from 1990-96.

He was born into the aristocracy as the 6th Baron Carrington and had the classic upbringing of Eton and Sandhurst. He even managed to be a war hero, winning the Military Cross as a tank commander for action at the Nijmegan Bridge in September, 1944.

As a politician, his finest achievement was probably brokering the Lancaster House agreement. The long, drawn-out talks eventually, against all the odds, resulted in the miraculously bloodless settlement of the war in Rhodesia. The agreement was signed in 1979.

Vilification was heaped on Carrington by Messrs Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, but they ended up praising him as "our great friend, an Englishman who truly understands us" and referring to his great achievement.

It was a measure of his diplomacy to assemble the weight of the Commonwealth to force Mugabe, Nkomo and Bishop Muzorewa to go to London and, once there allow themselves to be trapped into staying until an agreement was reached.

The Falklands episode was less happy. Carrington resigned as Foreign Secretary as a matter of honour, though some claimed at the time that he had been made the scapegoat for failings elsewhere in the department and forced to fall on his sword.

Margaret Thatcher, who described Carrington as a "sturdy and bonny fighter for Britain", reportedly spent 48 hours trying to persuade him not to go, but the then Foreign Secretary insisted that as head of the department he had to take the blame.

He said some time later that, with regard to the build-up to the invasion, he did not honestly think he would have done anything of substance differently, and he was more or less exonerated by the Franks Report into the circumstances surrounding the Argentinian action.

Carrington stepped down as GEC chairman in 1984 to take on the NATO job, and seemed happy to be back in the political thick of it. The GEC post had been fascinating, he said at the time, but lacked the immediacy of public office.

"I mean, at the Foreign Office you have to do things very quickly because if you don't do them quickly events take charge," he said. "There isn't quite the same sense of urgency in other walks of life and that I think I did rather miss."

The Americans seem to have had a somewhat ambivalent attitude to Carrington. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Reagan, but suffered the indignity of being described as a schmuck by New York Mayor Ed Koch, and as a duplicitous bastard by Al Haig during his time as US Secretary of State.

This would be so much water off a duck's back to Carrington, the consummate diplomat about whom it was once said that it was difficult to find anyone at NATO with a bad word to say about him, and whose officials loved him even though it was said that he had a way of making them think he was taking their advice, even though he was doing something different.

One example of his consummate diplomacy and relaxed understanding of the way the world worked came when he was standing on President Kaunda's lawn in Zambia at a Commonwealth conference when news came through that the Nigerians had nationalised British oil interests.

About to be asked by a journalist why he had made no mention of this when he had seen the British press the night before, Carrington pre-empted the question. "I know what you're thinking," he said. "The answer is that I didn't bloody well know. See those chaps standing over there in their funny hats (pointing at the Nigerian delegation)? Well I'm going right over there now and I'm going to knock their hats off and stamp on them." The hats, of course, remained intact.

Lord Carrington, Knight of the Garter and much else besides, was once described as a man of influence but no power. There is no doubt, however, that he was a pretty powerful influence.

He married his wife Iona in 1942 and they had one son and two daughters.