Leon Brittan

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The Lord Brittan of Spennithorne

Lord Brittan 2011.jpg
Brittan in 2011
Vice-President of the European Commission
In office
16 March 1999 15 September 1999
President Manuel Marín (Acting)
Preceded by Manuel Marín
Succeeded by Neil Kinnock
European Commissioner for External Relations
In office
23 January 1995 15 September 1999
President Jacques Santer
Manuel Marín (Acting)
Preceded by Frans Andriessen
Succeeded by The Lord Patten of Barnes
European Commissioner for Trade
In office
6 January 1993 15 September 1999
President Jacques Delors
Jacques Santer
Manuel Marín (Acting)
Preceded by Frans Andriessen
Succeeded by Pascal Lamy
European Commissioner for Competition
In office
6 January 1989 6 January 1993
President Jacques Delors
Preceded by Peter Sutherland
Succeeded by Karel Van Miert
Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
In office
2 September 1985 24 January 1986
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Norman Tebbit
Succeeded by Paul Channon
Home Secretary
In office
11 June 1983 2 September 1985
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by William Whitelaw
Succeeded by Douglas Hurd
Chief Secretary to the Treasury
In office
5 January 1981 11 June 1983
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by John Biffen
Succeeded by Peter Rees
Minister of State for the Home Office
In office
4 May 1979 5 January 1981
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Lord Boston
Succeeded by Patrick Mayhew
Member of Parliament
for Richmond (Yorks)
In office
9 June 1983 31 December 1988
Preceded by Timothy Kitson
Succeeded by William Hague
Member of Parliament
for Cleveland and Whitby
In office
28 February 1974 9 June 1983
Preceded by James Tinn
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Personal details
Born(1939-09-25)25 September 1939
North London, England
Died21 January 2015(2015-01-21) (aged 75)
London, England
Political party Conservative
Diana Clemetson(m. 1980)
Education The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School, Hertfordshire
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge and Yale University (Henry Fellowship)
Profession Barrister

Leon Brittan, Baron Brittan of Spennithorne, PC , QC , DL (25 September 1939 – 21 January 2015) was a British politician, Conservative Member of Parliament, and barrister, as well as a member of the European Commission. He served several ministerial roles in Margaret Thatcher's government, including Home Secretary.

Privy Council of the United Kingdom Formal body of advisers to the sovereign in the United Kingdom

Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, usually known simply as the Privy Council of the United Kingdom or just the Privy Council, is a formal body of advisers to the Sovereign of the United Kingdom. Its membership mainly comprises senior politicians who are current or former members of either the House of Commons or the House of Lords.

Queens Counsel Jurist appointed by letters patent in some Commonwealth realms

A Queen's Counsel, or King's Counsel during the reign of a king, is a lawyer who is appointed by the monarch to be one of "Her Majesty's Counsel learned in the law." The term is recognised as an honorific. The position exists in some Commonwealth jurisdictions around the world, but other Commonwealth countries have either abolished the position, or re-named it to eliminate monarchical connotations, such as "Senior Counsel" or "Senior Advocate". Queen's Counsel is an office, conferred by the Crown, that is recognised by courts. Members have the privilege of sitting within the bar of court.

A politician is a person active in party politics, or a person holding or seeking office in government. Politicians propose, support and create laws or policies that govern the land and, by extension, its people. Broadly speaking, a "politician" can be anyone who seeks to achieve political power in any bureaucratic institution.


Early life

Leon Brittan was born in London, the son of Rebecca (Lipetz) and Joseph Brittan, a doctor. His parents were Lithuanian Jews who had migrated to Britain before World War II. [1] He was educated at The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was President of the Cambridge Union Society and Chairman of the Cambridge University Conservative Association. Brittan then studied at Yale University on a Henry Fellowship. [2] Sir Samuel Brittan, the economics journalist, was his brother. [1] The former Conservative MP Malcolm Rifkind, and the music producer Mark Ronson, were cousins. [3] [4]

Lithuanian Jews Jews with roots in the present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia, northeastern Suwałki and Białystok region of Poland and some border areas of Russia and Ukraine

Lithuanian Jews or Litvaks are Jews with roots in the present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia, northeastern Suwałki and Białystok region of Poland and some border areas of Russia and Ukraine. The term is sometimes used to cover all Orthodox Jews who follow a "Lithuanian" style of life and learning, whatever their ethnic background. The area where Lithuanian Jews lived is referred to in Yiddish as ליטע Lite, hence the Hebrew term Lita'im (לִיטָאִים‎).

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Trinity College, Cambridge constituent college of the University of Cambridge in England

Trinity College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge in England. With around 600 undergraduates, 300 graduates, and over 180 fellows, it is the largest college in either of the Oxbridge universities by number of undergraduates. In terms of total student numbers, it is second only to Homerton College, Cambridge.

Political career

MP and minister

After unsuccessfully contesting the constituency of Kensington North in 1966 and 1970, he was elected to parliament in the general election of February 1974 for Cleveland and Whitby, and became an opposition spokesman in 1976. He was made a Queen's Counsel in 1978. Between 1979 and 1981 he was Minister of State at the Home Office, and was then promoted to become Chief Secretary to the Treasury, becoming the youngest member of the Cabinet. [5] He warned cabinet colleagues that spending on social security, health and education would have to be cut "whether they like it or not". [6]

Kensington North was a parliamentary constituency centred on the Kensington district of west London. It returned one Member of Parliament to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

1966 United Kingdom general election general election

The 1966 United Kingdom general election on 31 March 1966 was won convincingly by the Labour Party led by incumbent Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

1970 United Kingdom general election general election

The 1970 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday 18 June 1970. It resulted in a surprise victory for the Conservative Party under leader Edward Heath, which defeated the governing Labour Party under Harold Wilson. The Liberal Party, under its new leader Jeremy Thorpe, lost half their seats. The Conservatives, including the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), secured a majority of 31 seats. This general election was the first in which people could vote from the age of 18, after passage of the Representation of the People Act the previous year.

At the 1983 election Brittan was elected MP for Richmond. Following the election, he was promoted to Home Secretary, becoming the youngest since Sir Winston Churchill. [5] During the UK miners' strike (1984–85), Brittan was a strong critic of the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers. He accused them of organising violence by flying pickets, whom he described as "thugs". [7] One factor in the defeat of the strike was central control of local police forces. As soon as the strike began, Brittan set up a National Reporting Centre in New Scotland Yard to co-ordinate intelligence and the supply of police officers between forces as necessary. Margaret Thatcher's government had carefully planned for a miners' strike and a Whitehall committee had been meeting in secret since 1981, to prepare for a long dispute. [8]

1983 United Kingdom general election election for members of the British House of Commons

The 1983 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday 9 June 1983. It gave the Conservative Party under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher the most decisive election victory since that of the Labour Party in 1945.

Richmond (Yorks) (UK Parliament constituency) Parliamentary constituency in the United Kingdom, 1868 onwards

Richmond (Yorks) is a constituency in North Yorkshire represented in the House of Commons of the UK Parliament since May 2015 by Rishi Sunak, a Conservative.

Winston Churchill Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during most of World War II

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was a British politician, army officer, and writer. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, when he led Britain to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. Churchill represented five constituencies during his career as a Member of Parliament (MP). Ideologically an economic liberal and imperialist, for most of his career he was a member of the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955, but from 1904 to 1924 was instead a member of the Liberal Party.

In 1984, after the murder of British police officer Yvonne Fletcher during a protest outside the Libyan embassy in London, Brittan headed the government's crisis committee as both Thatcher and the Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, were away at the time. [9] In January 2014, secret government documents released by the National Archives disclosed that British officials were twice warned by Libya that the Libyan embassy protest would become violent – hours before WPC Fletcher was killed. [10]

Murder of Yvonne Fletcher British police officer

The murder of Yvonne Fletcher, a Metropolitan Police officer, occurred on 17 April 1984, when she was fatally wounded by a shot fired from the Libyan embassy on St James's Square, London, by an unknown gunman. Fletcher had been deployed to monitor a demonstration against the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and died shortly afterwards. Her death resulted in an eleven-day siege of the embassy, at the end of which those inside were expelled from the country and the United Kingdom severed diplomatic relations with Libya.

Geoffrey Howe British Conservative politician

Richard Edward Geoffrey Howe, Baron Howe of Aberavon,, known from 1970 to 1992 as Sir Geoffrey Howe, was a British Conservative politician.

The National Archives (United Kingdom) Repository of archival information for the United Kingdom

The National Archives (TNA) is a non-ministerial government department. Its parent department is the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is the official archive of the UK government and for England and Wales; and "guardian of some of the nation's most iconic documents, dating back more than 1,000 years." There are separate national archives for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In September 1986, Brittan was cleared by a High Court Judge of acting unlawfully when, as Home Secretary, he gave MI5 permission to tap the telephone of a leader of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. [11]

MI5 British domestic security agency

The Security Service, also known as MI5, is the United Kingdom's domestic counter-intelligence and security agency and is part of its intelligence machinery alongside the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and Defence Intelligence (DI). MI5 is directed by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), and the service is bound by the Security Service Act 1989. The service is directed to protect British parliamentary democracy and economic interests, and counter terrorism and espionage within the UK.

Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament British organisation advocating unilateral nuclear disarmament

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is an organisation that advocates unilateral nuclear disarmament by the United Kingdom, international nuclear disarmament and tighter international arms regulation through agreements such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It opposes military action that may result in the use of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and the building of nuclear power stations in the UK.

In September 1985, Brittan was moved to Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. [12] The reason for his demotion, according to Jonathan Aitken, was that the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher felt that Brittan was "not getting the message across on television". [13] In her memoirs, Thatcher wrote of Brittan: "Everybody complained about his manner on television, which seemed aloof and uncomfortable." [14]

Brittan had been criticised as a poor communicator and for his role in the suppression of a BBC television programme in the Real Lives series on The Troubles in Northern Ireland, At the Edge of the Union. [12] Brittan stated that transmission of the programme would be against the national interest and in August 1985 he wrote to the BBC Chairman, Stuart Young, asking for the broadcast to be cancelled. The BBC's Board of Governors called an emergency meeting and ruled that the documentary could not be shown. The controversy led to a rift in the BBC between the boards of Management and Governors. It also led to a day of strike action by hundreds of television and radio workers who protested against what they perceived as government censorship. [15] [16]

Resignation over the Westland affair

Brittan resigned as Trade and Industry Secretary in January 1986, over the Westland affair. [17] Brittan had authorised the leaking of a letter from the Solicitor General that had accused Michael Heseltine of inaccuracies in his campaign for Westland to be rescued by a consortium of European investors. [17] The rest of the Government, led by Margaret Thatcher, supported a deal with the American business Sikorsky Fiat. [17] Jonathan Aitken wrote of Brittan’s resignation: "Soon after a poisonous meeting of Tory backbenchers at the 1922 Committee he fell on his sword. It was a combination of a witch hunt and a search for a scapegoat – tainted by an undercurrent of anti-Semitism. […] I believed what should have been obvious to anyone else, that he was being used as a lightning conductor to deflect the fire that the Prime Minister had started and inflamed". [13] It was later revealed that Brittan had attempted to persuade British Aerospace and GEC to withdraw from the European consortium. [17]

In October 1986, in a House of Commons debate, Brittan made a bitter attack on Michael Heseltine, accusing him of "thwarting the Government at every turn" in its handling of the Westland affair. Brittan said that Government decisions "should have the support of all its members and should not be undermined from within". [18]

In 1989, Brittan revealed in a Channel 4 programme that two senior Downing Street officials, Bernard Ingham and Charles Powell, had approved the leaking of the letter from the Solicitor General. Brittan's claim led to calls from some Labour MPs for there to be a new inquiry into the Westland affair. [19]

European Commission

Brittan was knighted in the 1989 New Years Honours List. [20] He was made European Commissioner for Competition at the European Commission early in 1989, [17] resigning as an MP to take the position. He accepted the post as European commissioner reluctantly, as it meant giving up his British parliamentary ambitions. [21] Margaret Thatcher appointed Brittan to the Commission as a replacement for Lord Cockfield, whose pro-European enthusiasm she disapproved of; however, in doing so she had overlooked Brittan's own record as a supporter of the European Union and subsequently found his views and policies at odds with those she had expected from him. [21]

In 1995 he became European Commissioner for Trade and European Commissioner for External Affairs, also serving as a Vice-President of the European Commission. Brittan resigned with the rest of the Santer Commission in 1999 amid accusations of fraud against Jacques Santer and Édith Cresson. [17] During his time as a Vice-President of the European Commission, one subsequently prominent member of his official office was Nick Clegg, [22] who became leader of the Liberal Democrats in December 2007 [23] and Deputy Prime Minister in May 2010. [24] In 1995, he was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Laws) by the University of Bath. [25]


Brittan was created Baron Brittan of Spennithorne, of Spennithorne in the County of North Yorkshire in February 2000. He was vice-chairman of UBS AG Investment Bank, non-executive director of Unilever and member of the international advisory committee for Total. In August 2010, Brittan was appointed as a trade adviser to the UK government. Prime Minister David Cameron said that Brittan had "unrivalled experience" for the job, which was scheduled to last for six months. [26]

Brittan's wife, Diana (née Clemetson; born October 1940), Lady Brittan of Spennithorne, was named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2004 Birthday Honours "for public service and charity". [27]


Brittan died at his home in London on 21 January 2015, at the age of 75; he had been ill with cancer for some time. He had two stepdaughters. [28]

Unsubstantiated allegations

Paedophile dossier

In 1984, in his capacity as Home Secretary, Brittan was handed a 40-page dossier by Geoffrey Dickens MP which detailed alleged paedophile activity in the 1980s, including, according to Dickens, allegations concerning "people in positions of power, influence and responsibility". [29] [30] The whereabouts of the dossier is currently unknown. [29] Brittan denied any knowledge of the matter in an e-mail to a Channel 4 News reporter in 2013, [31] and later replied that he had no recollection of it to a query from The Independent newspaper. [32] Brittan later declared in 2014 that Dickens had met him at the Home Office and that he had written to Dickens on 20 March 1984, explaining what had been done in relation to the files. [31]

An initial review by Home Office civil servant Mark Sedwill in 2013 found that copies of Dickens's material had "not been retained" but that Brittan had acted appropriately in dealing with the allegations. In November 2014, a review by Peter Wanless followed. Wanless said there was no evidence to suggest that files had been removed to cover up abuse. [33]

Allegations pursued by Tom Watson MP

In June 2014, Brittan was interviewed under caution by police in connection with the alleged rape of a 19-year-old student in his central London flat in 1967, before he became an MP. They had not pursued the allegation when it was first made, on the grounds of insufficient evidence. The police reopened the investigation after Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, had been lobbied by Labour MP Tom Watson to investigate further. [34] In a statement on 7 July 2014, Brittan denied the claims. [35] At the time of his death, Brittan had not been told by the police that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him for the alleged rape of the woman. [36] The deputy assistant commissioner of the Met, Steve Rodhouse, wrote a letter of apology to the solicitors of Brittan's widow. [37]

In October 2014, a Labour MP used parliamentary privilege to refer to claims that Brittan had been linked to child abuse. [38] [39] After Brittan died in January 2015, Watson accused him of "multiple child rape"; he said he had spoken to two people who claimed they were abused by Brittan. [40] A journalist further alleged that Brittan had abused a pre-pubescent boy at Elm Guest House in mid-1982. [41] In March 2015, it was reported that detectives from Operation Midland, set up by the Metropolitan Police to investigate claims of child sex abuse, had visited and searched two homes in London and Yorkshire formerly owned by Brittan. [42] On 21 March 2016, the Metropolitan Police confirmed that Operation Midland had been closed without any charges being brought. [43] In an article for The Times, journalist James Gillespie quoted a letter from Dickens dated 7 January 1984 in which he thanked Brittan for his 'splendid support' in the matter. He also gave examples of the allegations contained in the dossier including a woman protesting that her 16-year-old son had become homosexual after working in Buckingham Palace kitchens and a civil servant advocating persons caught by Customs and Excise importing child pornography should be referred to the police. [44]

On 1 September 2017 it was reported that the Metropolitan Police had paid substantial compensation to Brittan's widow for having raided the Brittans' home "after accepting that the searches had been unjustified and should never have taken place." [45]

Styles of address

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  1. 1 2 "Man in the News; Crisis Commander". The New York Times. 23 April 1984. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
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  19. Trotter, Stuart (6 April 1989). "Westland affair re-opened by Brittan". The Glasgow Herald. Retrieved 8 February 2014.
  20. Industry forum biography Archived 26 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
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  33. "'No cover-up found' in abuse review by Peter Wanless". BBC News. Manchester. 11 November 2014. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
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  39. Hansard (28 October 2014). House of Commons debate: ‘Coalfield Communities’, col. 255. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  40. Millmo, Cahal (25 January 2015). "Leon Brittan sex abuse allegations: Two come forward to claim they were abused by former Home Secretary". The Independent on Sunday. London.
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  42. Barrett, David (8 March 2015). "Police search home of Lord Bramall as part of paedophile sex abuse inquiry". The Daily Telegraph. London.
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  45. Evans, Martin (1 September 2017). "Met Police pays compensation to Lord Bramall and Lady Brittan over disastrous Operation Midland investigation". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Cleveland and Whitby
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
Sir Tim Kitson
Member of Parliament for Richmond (Yorks)
Succeeded by
William Hague
Political offices
Preceded by
John Biffen
Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Succeeded by
Peter Rees
Preceded by
William Whitelaw
Home Secretary
Succeeded by
Douglas Hurd
Preceded by
Norman Tebbit
Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
Succeeded by
Paul Channon
Preceded by
The Lord Cockfield
European Commissioner from the United Kingdom
Served alongside: Bruce Millan (1989–1995)
Neil Kinnock (1995–1999)
Succeeded by
Chris Patten
Preceded by
Stanley Clinton-Davis
Succeeded by
Neil Kinnock
Preceded by
Peter Sutherland
European Commissioner for Competition
Succeeded by
Karel Van Miert
Preceded by
Frans Andriessen
European Commissioner for Trade
Succeeded by
Pascal Lamy
European Commissioner for External Relations
Succeeded by
Chris Patten
Preceded by
Manuel Marín
First Vice-President of the European Commission
Succeeded by
Neil Kinnock
Academic offices
New office Chancellor of the University of Teesside
Succeeded by
The Lord Sawyer