|The Right Honourable
The Lord Brittan of Spennithorne
QC PC DL
Brittan in 2011
|Vice-President of the European Commission|
16 March 1999 – 15 September 1999
|President||Manuel Marín (Acting)|
|Preceded by||Manuel Marín|
|Succeeded by||Neil Kinnock|
|European Commissioner for External Relations|
23 January 1995 – 15 September 1999
Manuel Marín (Acting)
|Preceded by||Frans Andriessen|
|Succeeded by||Chris Patten|
|European Commissioner for Trade|
6 January 1993 – 15 September 1999
Manuel Marín (Acting)
|Preceded by||Frans Andriessen|
|Succeeded by||Pascal Lamy|
|European Commissioner for Competition|
6 January 1989 – 6 January 1993
|Preceded by||Peter Sutherland|
|Succeeded by||Karel Van Miert|
|Secretary of State for Trade and Industry|
2 September 1985 – 24 January 1986
|Prime Minister||Margaret Thatcher|
|Preceded by||Norman Tebbit|
|Succeeded by||Paul Channon|
11 June 1983 – 2 September 1985
|Prime Minister||Margaret Thatcher|
|Preceded by||William Whitelaw|
|Succeeded by||Douglas Hurd|
|Chief Secretary to the Treasury|
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|
4 May 1979 – 5 January 1981
|Prime Minister||Margaret Thatcher|
|Preceded by||Lord Boston|
|Succeeded by||Patrick Mayhew|
|Member of Parliament
for Richmond (Yorks)
9 June 1983 – 31 December 1988
|Preceded by||Timothy Kitson|
|Succeeded by||William Hague|
|Member of Parliament
for Cleveland and Whitby
28 February 1974 – 9 June 1983
|Preceded by||James Tinn|
|Succeeded by||Constituency abolished|
25 September 1939|
North London, England
|Died||21 January 2015
|Spouse(s)||Diana Clemetson (m. 1980)|
|Education||The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School, Hertfordshire|
|Alma mater||Trinity College, Cambridge|
Leon Brittan, Baron Brittan of Spennithorne, QC, PC, 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.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Political career
- 3 Allegations
- 4 Personal life
- 5 Death
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Leon Brittan was born in London, the son of Rebecca (Lipetz) and Joseph Brittan, a doctor. His parents were of Lithuanian Jewish descent. 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. Sir Samuel Brittan, the economics journalist, was his brother; the Conservative MP for Kensington Malcolm Rifkind, and the music producer Mark Ronson were cousins.
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. He warned cabinet colleagues that spending on social security, health and education would have to be cut "whether they like it or not".
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. 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". 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.
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. 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.
In September 1985, Brittan was moved to Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. 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". In her memoirs, Thatcher wrote of Brittan: "Everybody complained about his manner on television, which seemed aloof and uncomfortable."
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. 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.
Resignation over the Westland affair
Brittan resigned as Trade and Industry Secretary in January 1986, over the Westland affair. 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. The rest of the Government, led by Margaret Thatcher, supported a deal with the American business Sikorsky Fiat. 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". It was later revealed that Brittan had attempted to persuade British Aerospace and GEC to withdraw from the European consortium.
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".
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.
Phone tapping court case
In September 1986, Brittan was cleared by a High Court Judge of acting unlawfully when he gave MI5 permission to tap the telephone of a leader of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. It was alleged that Brittan had authorised the tapping of John Cox, vice-president of CND, at his home in Gwent, in 1983. Government guidelines restricted this type of surveillance to those thought to pose a risk to national security. It was alleged that the tap was part of an attempt to gain information to discredit CND and that Brittan had acted without authority or power when ordering the tap. The judge, however, ruled that Brittan had not flouted guidelines on tapping. The National Council for Civil Liberties criticised the judge's finding that surveillance could be justified by a person's lawful political beliefs and called for stricter limits on surveillance.
Brittan was knighted in 1989. He was made European Commissioner for Competition at the European Commission early in 1989, 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. 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.
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. During his time as a Vice-President of the European Commission, one subsequently prominent member of his official office was Nick Clegg, who became leader of the Liberal Democrats in December 2007 and Deputy Prime Minister in May 2010. In 1995, he was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Laws) by the University of Bath.
He 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.
In 1984, in his capacity as Home Secretary, Brittan was handed a 40-page dossier by Geoffrey Dickens MP that detailed alleged paedophile activity in the 1980s at Westminster. The whereabouts of the dossier is currently unknown, along with other files on organised child abuse previously held by the Home Office. Brittan denied any knowledge of the matter in an e-mail to a Channel 4 News reporter in 2013, and later replied that he had no recollection of it to a query from The Independent newspaper. 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.
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 it was impossible to say whether files were removed to cover up abuse. The chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz said that files had been lost "on an industrial scale".
Mark Sedwill found that 114 files "potentially relevant" to child abuse were known to have been lost or destroyed by the Home Office and at least four specific allegations relating to child abuse were not passed to police for up to 35 years.
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. He was not arrested, and The Independent on Sunday reported that he declined to discuss the allegation. In a statement on 7 July 2014, the Conservative peer said about these claims: "It is true that I have been questioned by the police about a serious allegation made against me. This allegation is wholly without foundation".
Brittan had initially not been interviewed as CPS lawyers had advised that, based on the woman’s account, there was insufficient evidence to justify charging Brittan. The police reopened the investigation after Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, had been lobbied by Labour MP Tom Watson to investigate further. When Brittan was interviewed, he denied he had met the woman in question and a statement by the Metropolitan Police said the reopening of the case had not strengthened the initial evidence. According to David Aaronovitch in The Times, during her police interview the woman known under the pseudonym of Jane, "said he had taken her to his basement flat, but at the time he had lived on the third floor. And friends of hers who she said could corroborate parts of her story flatly contradicted it."
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. The deputy assistant commissioner of the Met, Steve Rodhouse, wrote to the solicitors of Brittan's widow: "I do recognise that this clarity should have been provided at an earlier stage and I apologise for any distress that this has caused to Lady Brittan".
Child sex abuse allegations
In October 2014, a Labour MP used parliamentary privilege to refer to claims that Brittan had been linked to child abuse. In a debate on the 1984 miners' strike, Jim Hood MP was reported to have said: "By the way, the current exposé of Sir Leon Brittan [sic], the then Home Secretary, with accusations of improper conduct with children will not come as a surprise to striking miners of 1984".
After Brittan died in January 2015, he was accused of "multiple child rape". Labour MP Tom Watson said he had spoken to two people who claimed they were abused by Brittan, including a man who alleged he had been attacked more than a dozen times as a boy. The alleged victim also said he had seen Brittan assault others. Watson said that he – along with others, including media organisations – had known of the accusations but had decided not to speak out for fear of prejudicing any jury trial that Brittan might have one day faced. Watson said he believed the alleged victims he had spoken to were "sincere". Friends of Brittan said that his final months had been unjustly clouded by a "smear campaign" and "innuendo".
The Independent on Sunday reported allegations that Brittan had abused a pre-pubescent boy at Elm Guest House in mid-1982. Allegations were reported that Brittan had been photographed attending a rent boy orgy in 1986. It was alleged that young boys were picked up at Kings Cross, London and dropped off at a north London location to be repeatedly raped, but the day before the planned arrests of Brittan and other high-profile figures including the Liberal MP Cyril Smith, the 1986 investigation was inexplicably disbanded.
In March 2015, The Daily Telegraph reported that detectives from Operation Midland, set up by the Metropolitan Police to investigate claims of child sex abuse by Westminster politicians and other VIPs, had visited and searched two homes in London and Yorkshire formerly owned by the late Lord Brittan.
In government documents released in July 2015, Brittan was one of four senior Westminster figures named in connection to child sexual abuse, but the context of the reference is not known. Along with Brittan, the former British diplomat Sir Peter Hayman, and former ministers William van Straubenzee and Peter Morrison were named in secret government files after a review into historical child sex abuse.
In July 2015, it was reported that Brittan and Sir Peter Hayman were among the suspects who were involved in an alleged Westminster paedophile ring operating in the 1980s, according to an investigation by the Australian current affairs programme 60 Minutes entitled Spies, Lords and Predators. One alleged victim accused Brittan of regularly abusing children at the Dolphin Square apartment block in Pimlico. The alleged victim told 60 Minutes that Brittan liked boys to dress in women's underwear before abusing them. The allegations of a paedophile ring involving politicians, the police, and other high-profile names, were described by 60 Minutes as "Britain's biggest ever scandal".
Brittan's wife, Diana (née Clemetson; born 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".
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- The London Gazette: . 12 June 2004.
- Mason, Rowena (22 January 2015). "Leon Brittan, former home secretary, dies aged 75". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 22 January 2015.
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Leon Brittan
- Announcement of his introduction at the House of Lords House of Lords minutes of proceedings, 29 February 2000