Former British foreign secretary Geoffrey Howe, who came to Hong Kong in 1984 to announce the city’s return to China, has died of a suspected heart attack. He was 88. The Conservative Party politician is widely recognised for his key role in paving the way for the 1984 agreement on the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Howe, who was one of the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s key cabinet colleagues, became foreign secretary in 1983, in the year the first round of formal talks between Britain and China over Hong Kong began in Beijing. David Cameron, the British prime minister, led tributes to Howe, saying: “Geoffrey Howe was a kind, gentle and deeply thoughtful man… He was the quiet hero of the first Thatcher government. “The Conservative family has lost one of its greats.” Howe is remembered in Hong Kong as the British foreign secretary of the time who negotiated with China over the city’s fate beyond 1997. After a round of historic negotiations concluded in Beijing in 1984, Howe came to Hong Kong and gave a press conference on 20th April to officially announce that London would give up its rule in Hong Kong in 1997. He visited the then colony again in July 1989 – soon after Beijing’s June 4 crackdown on the Tiananmen democracy campaign shook Hongkongers’ confidence over their future under Chinese Communist rule, and rejected the option of giving Hongkongers full British citizenship. Last year, declassified British government records revealed that Howe proposed on September 6, 1984 that London should accept Beijing’s position that the chief executive could be chosen by "election or consultation" in return for a statement in the joint declaration that the legislature should be elected. In an interview with the South China Morning Post in 2004, Howe fended off criticism that British officials failed to secure democracy for Hong Kong after the handover in her negotiations with China. "If we suddenly announced a Westminster style parliament in Hong Kong, the Chinese might well have taken that as a cause for simply marching in. I don’t think they would necessarily contemplate it, but who was to know," he said at that time. Howe’s family said he died late on Friday night at his home after attending a local jazz concert with his wife Elspeth. Former Executive Councillor and Legislative Councillor Allen Lee Peng-fei said he found Howe had not fought for Hongkongers’ maximum interests in the Sino-British negotiation. He recalled the time when Deng Xiaoping rejected the idea of making the negotiation tripartite and include local Hong Kong representatives. “At that time Britain had already given up sovereignty over Hong Kong and only wanted to avoid the Hong Kong issue from becoming an obstacle on her relation with China. Howe just wanted to get rid of troubles.” But Democrat Lee Wing-tat, who along with his colleagues ambushed Howe with a protest at an official dinner on his visit in 1989, said he believed the former foreign secretary had already done he could do under Thatcher’s policy on Hong Kong. “We raised three demands to him at that time: right of abode for Hongkongers, democratisation and legislation on the Bill of Rights… The British government later decided to give 50,000 right of abode quotas and secured the Bill of Rights. The most disappointing part was the failure to secure democracy in Hong Kong. But at that time Britain had not much bargaining chip left and I believed he had already tried his best.” Democratic Party founding chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming said he remembered Howe firmly rejecting four requests that he and his fellow democracy campaigners made about the future of Hong Kong, but Britain later partially compromised by introducing electoral reforms, legislating on the Bill of Rights and offering British right of abode to 50,000 families. "What Britain had in her mind was her own interests, not that of Hongkongers. But Howe was just working for his government and I can't really blame him," he said.