Geoffrey Howe was born in 1926 at Port Talbot in Wales. He was educated at Winchester College and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he read Law. He was called to the Bar in 1952 and was made a QC in 1965. He represented Bebington in the British House of Commons from 1964 to 1966, Reigate from 1970 to 1974, and Surrey East from 1974 to 1992. In 1970 he was knighted and appointed Solicitor General in Edward Heath's government, and in 1972 became a Minister of State at the Department of Trade and Industry, a post he held until Labour took power in March 1974.
In opposition between 1974 and 1979, he rose to the rank of Shadow Chancellor. Labour Chancellor Denis Healey famously described being attacked by Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep". After the Conservative victory in the 1979 general election, he became Chancellor of the Exchequer.
After the 1983 general election Thatcher made him Foreign Secretary. Howe's position was made difficult by significant differences between his views and those of his Prime Minister, especially on relations between the UK and the European Commmunity. In July 1989 John Major replaced him as Foreign Secretary, and he became Leader of the House of Commons, Lord President of the Council and Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Despite the title of Deputy Prime Minister this was generally seen as a demotion.
In 1990, with a challenge to Thatcher's leadership in the offing, Howe resigned his posts on November 1. In his resignation speech on November 13, he offered a cricket metaphor for British negotiations with Europe: "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 called on others to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long". This attack on Thatcher is widely seen as an important factor in her failure to see off the leadership challenge of Michael Heseltine and her subsequent resignation.
Howe retired from the Commons in 1992 and was made a life peer. His wife Elspeth Howe, a former Chair of the Broadcasting Standards Commission, was made a life peer in 2001.