Leon Brittan

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The Right Honourable
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 Chris Patten
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)September 25, 1939
North London, England
Died January 21, 2015(2015-01-21) (aged 75)
London, England
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Diana Clemetson (m. 1980)
Education The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School, Hertfordshire
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge
Profession Barrister
Religion Judaism[1]

Leon Brittan, Baron Brittan of Spennithorne, QC, PC, DL (25 September 1939 in North London, United Kingdom21 January 2015) was a British Jewish neoconservative 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.

Early life

Leon Brittan was born in London, the son of Rebecca (Lipetz) and Joseph Brittan, a doctor.[2] 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 former Conservative MP Malcolm Rifkind,[3] and the music producer Mark Ronson were cousins.[4]

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]

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]

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]

In September 1985, Brittan was moved to Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.[11] 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".[12] In her memoirs, Thatcher wrote of Brittan: "Everybody complained about his manner on television, which seemed aloof and uncomfortable."[13]

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.[11] 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.[14][15]

Resignation over the Westland affair

Brittan resigned as Trade and Industry Secretary in January 1986, over the Westland affair.[16] 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.[16] The rest of the Government, led by Margaret Thatcher, supported a deal with the American business Sikorsky Fiat.[16] 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".[12] It was later revealed that Brittan had attempted to persuade British Aerospace and GEC to withdraw from the European consortium.[16]

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".[17]

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.[18]

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.[19]

European Commission

Brittan was knighted in 1989.[20] He was made European Commissioner for Competition at the European Commission early in 1989,[16] 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.[16] 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]


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.[26]


Paedophile dossier

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.[27] The whereabouts of the dossier is currently unknown, along with other files on organised child abuse previously held by the Home Office.[27] Brittan denied any knowledge of the matter in an e-mail to a Channel 4 News reporter in 2013,[28] and later replied that he had no recollection of it to a query from The Independent newspaper.[29] 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.[28]

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.[30] The chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz said that files had been lost "on an industrial scale".[31]

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.[32]

Rape allegation

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.[33] 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".[34]

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.[35] 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."[36] But one of the friends of Jane, her former flatmates, later told Exaro News about the apparent contradiction ascribed to them: "These friends could only have been us, and this is totally untrue."[37]

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.[35] 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".[38]

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".[39][40]

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 accuser 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 accusers he had spoken to were "sincere". Friends of Brittan said that his final months had been unjustly clouded by a "smear campaign" and "innuendo".[41]

The Independent on Sunday reported allegations that Brittan had abused a pre-pubescent boy at Elm Guest House in mid-1982.[42] 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.[43] In an October 2015 episode of Panorama, a former Elm Guest House prostitute claimed that he was unaware of any MPs visiting the brothel.[44]

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.[45]

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.[46][47] 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.[48]

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.[49] 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".[49]

On 6 October, Panorama revealed that one of 60 Minutes and Exaro's witnesses, 'Darren', had told a social worker two years ago that Brittan "never abused me or anyone I know". Police had interviewed 'Darren' before Operation Midland but not considered the evidence strong enough at the time. Another of Exaro's witnesses told Panorama (who named him 'David') he'd been encouraged in 1990 to name officials like Brittan by campaigner Chris Fay (see Elm Guest House), "done as a joke, suggested to start with but that suggestion became reality". 'David' stated he was told one of his abusers "could only be" Brittan and he "went along with it", and is no longer sure if it's true or if his memory is "confused"; and in 2013, was contacted by Fay again and heavily pressured to give information to Exaro. He claims the police investigated if Fay was putting words in his mouth, which Fay has denied. Panorama said that in the past 'David' has "told people what they want to hear" and it was possible he was doing it with them as well.[50]

On 1 September 2017, it was reported that the Metropolitan Police had paid substantial compensation to Brittan's widow, Diana, for having raided her home "after accepting that the searches had been unjustified and should never have taken place."[51]

Child Pornography Allegations

The Daily Telegraph has reported allegations that while Brittan was an EU Commissioner in the late 1980s he was caught trying to smuggle indecent videos of children into Dover.

“Almost a year ago I interviewed a very senior detective who was handling the Brittan investigation. He was very clear that the Customs Officer (referred to above) had made a clear and credible statement about stopping Brittan at Dover, and seizing child pornography video tapes from him. The Customs Officer stated that he viewed the tapes and was able to describe what was on them. That statement is – or should be – still held at the Metropolitan Police station from which the investigation was conducted." [52]

Personal life

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".[53]


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.[54]


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  20. Industry forum biography
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External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
James Tinn
Member of Parliament for Cleveland and Whitby
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
Timothy 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