Leon Brittan

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.

The Lord Brittan of Spennithorne

Brittan in 2011
Vice-President of the European Commission
In office
16 March 1999  15 September 1999
PresidentManuel Marín (Acting)
Preceded byManuel Marín
Succeeded byNeil Kinnock
European Commissioner for External Relations
In office
23 January 1995  15 September 1999
PresidentJacques Santer
Manuel Marín (Acting)
Preceded byFrans Andriessen
Succeeded byThe Lord Patten of Barnes
European Commissioner for Trade
In office
6 January 1993  15 September 1999
PresidentJacques Delors
Jacques Santer
Manuel Marín (Acting)
Preceded byFrans Andriessen
Succeeded byPascal Lamy
European Commissioner for Competition
In office
6 January 1989  6 January 1993
PresidentJacques Delors
Preceded byPeter Sutherland
Succeeded byKarel Van Miert
Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
In office
2 September 1985  24 January 1986
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
Preceded byNorman Tebbit
Succeeded byPaul Channon
Home Secretary
In office
11 June 1983  2 September 1985
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
Preceded byWilliam Whitelaw
Succeeded byDouglas Hurd
Chief Secretary to the Treasury
In office
5 January 1981  11 June 1983
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
Preceded byJohn Biffen
Succeeded byPeter Rees
Minister of State for the Home Office
In office
4 May 1979  5 January 1981
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
Preceded byLord Boston
Succeeded byPatrick Mayhew
Member of Parliament
for Richmond (Yorks)
In office
9 June 1983  31 December 1988
Preceded byTimothy Kitson
Succeeded byWilliam Hague
Member of Parliament
for Cleveland and Whitby
In office
28 February 1974  9 June 1983
Preceded byJames Tinn
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Personal details
Born(1939-09-25)25 September 1939
North London, England
Died21 January 2015(2015-01-21) (aged 75)
London, England
Political partyConservative
Diana Clemetson (m. 1980)
EducationThe Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School, Hertfordshire
Alma materTrinity College, Cambridge and Yale University (Henry Fellowship)

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]

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 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]

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]


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] 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.[33]

An initial review by Home Office civil servant Mark Sedwill in 2013 concluded 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.[34]

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.[35] In a statement on 7 July 2014, Brittan denied the claims.[36] 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.[37] The deputy assistant commissioner of the Met, Steve Rodhouse, wrote a letter of apology to the solicitors of Brittan's widow.[38]

In October 2014, the Labour MP Jimmy Hood used parliamentary privilege to refer to claims that Brittan had been linked to child abuse.[39][40] 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.[41] Convicted fraudster Chris Fay[42] alleged that he had seen a photograph of Brittan with a child at Elm Guest House in mid-1982.[43] 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.[44] One of Brittan's accusers subsequently told BBC's Panorama that he originally named Brittan as a joke and told the Metropolitan Police that two well-known campaigners may have led him into making false claims.[45] On 21 March 2016, the Metropolitan Police confirmed that Operation Midland had been closed without any charges being brought.[46]

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."[47] Carl Beech, whose claims spurred Operation Midland, was convicted of making up the allegations in July 2019.[48]

Styles of address

  • 19391974: Mr Leon Brittan
  • 19741978: Mr Leon Brittan MP
  • 19781981: Mr Leon Brittan QC MP
  • 19811988: The Rt Hon. Leon Brittan PC QC MP
  • 19881989: The Rt Hon. Leon Brittan PC QC
  • 19892000: The Rt Hon. Sir Leon Brittan PC QC
  • 20002015: The Rt Hon. The Lord Brittan of Spennithorne PC QC


  1. "Man in the News; Crisis Commander". The New York Times. 23 April 1984. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  2. "Brittan of Spennithorne, Baron cr 2000 (Life Peer), of Spennithorne in the County of North Yorkshire, (Leon Brittan) (25 Sept. 1939–21 Jan. 2015) | WHO'S WHO & WHO WAS WHO". www.ukwhoswho.com. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540891.001.0001/ww-9780199540884-e-8773. Retrieved 18 May 2019.
  3. Hope, Christopher (19 February 2014). "Who do they think they are? One in 11 MPs is married, related or have ancestors who sat in Commons". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
  4. "The man Amy and Lily go to when they want a hit". The Times. London. 27 January 2008. Retrieved 12 May 2010. (subscription required)
  5. "Brittan returns to Parliament as peer". BBC News. 31 December 1999. Retrieved 3 July 2014.
  6. Parkhouse, Geoffrey (23 September 1982). "Brittan warns 'wets' of cuts". The Glasgow Herald. Retrieved 3 July 2014.
  7. Russell, William (13 August 1984). "Brittan keeps up attack on miners' union leaders". The Glasgow Herald. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  8. Boxer, Andrew (2009). OCR A Level History B: The End of Consensus: Britain, 1945-90. Pearson Education. pp. 192–193. ISBN 9780435312374.
  9. "Aide Handled Crisis In Thatcher Style". The Palm Beach Post. Florida. 28 April 1984. Retrieved 3 July 2014.
  10. "National Archives: Libya warned Britain before WPc Yvonne Fletcher was shot, secret papers show". The Daily Telegraph. London. 3 January 2014. Retrieved 3 July 2014.
  11. "Judge clears Brittan over phone tap on CND leader". The Glasgow Herald. 3 September 1986. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  12. "Thatcher's biggest-ever cabinet shuffle sees Home Secretary Brittan demoted". The Montreal Gazette. 3 September 1985. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  13. Aitken, Jonathan. Margaret Thatcher: Power and Personality (2013). London: Bloomsbury. p. 514. ISBN 9781408831847.
  14. Castle, Stephen (27 January 2015). "Leon Brittan, 75, Dies; Quit Thatcher Cabinet in Leak Case". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  15. "The BBC Story: Real Lives 1985". BBC. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  16. "BBC set for confrontation with Brittan". The Glasgow Herald. 7 August 1985. Retrieved 16 January 2014.
  17. "1986: Leon Brittan quits over Westland". On This Day. BBC. Retrieved 28 October 2012.
  18. McGregor, Stephen (30 October 1986). "Thatcher accused of Westland plot". The Glasgow Herald. Retrieved 8 February 2014.
  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
  21. Langdon, Julia (22 January 2015). "Lord Brittan of Spennithorne obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  22. "Nick Clegg". Liberal Democrats official website.
  23. "Nick Clegg is new Lib Dem leader". BBC News. 18 December 2007. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  24. "David Cameron is UK's new prime minister". BBC News. 12 May 2010. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  25. "Honorary Graduates 1989 to present". University of Bath. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
  26. "Ex-Home Secretary Lord Brittan made trade adviser". BBC News. 19 August 2010.
  27. "No. 57315". The London Gazette (1st supplement). 12 June 2004. p. 6.
  28. Mason, Rowena (22 January 2015). "Leon Brittan, former home secretary, dies aged 75". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 January 2015.
  29. Boffey, Daniel (6 July 2014). "Tebbit hints at political cover-up over child abuse in 1980s". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 6 July 2014.
  30. "Tory MP warned of powerful paedophile ring 30 years ago". The Independent. London. 22 February 2013. Retrieved 6 July 2014.
  31. O'Brien, Paraic (2 July 2014). "Leon Brittan: I was handed 'paedophile' dossier". Channel 4 News. Retrieved 3 July 2014.
  32. Hickman, Martin (3 March 2013). "Police failings put dozens of children at risk from notorious paedophile ring". The Independent. London. Retrieved 3 July 2014.
  33. Gillespie, James (25 January 2015). "New evidence 'clears' Brittan over MP's paedophile dossier". The Times. London. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  34. "'No cover-up found' in abuse review by Peter Wanless". BBC News. Manchester. 11 November 2014. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  35. Merrill, Jamie (6 July 2014). "Exclusive: Lord Brittan questioned by police over rape allegation". The Independent on Sunday. London. Retrieved 6 July 2014.
  36. "Brittan says historical rape claim 'wholly unfounded'". BBC News. 7 July 2014. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
  37. Hanning, James (28 June 2015). "Lord Brittan police failed to tell dying peer he would not face prosecution despite legal advice". The Independent. London. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
  38. Halliday, Josh (7 October 2015). "Scotland Yard apologises to Lord Brittan's widow over rape claim". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  39. Dominiczak, Peter (26 October 2014). "Labour MP is condemned for linking Leon Brittan to child abuse". The Daily Telegraph (London).
  40. Hansard (28 October 2014). House of Commons debate: ‘Coalfield Communities’, col. 255. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  41. 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.
  42. Mendick, Robert (26 September 2015). "'VIP child abuse ring' accuser served time in prison for fraud". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  43. Hanning, James (25 January 2015). "Lord Brittan: The accusations against the former Home Secretary that refused to die". The Independent on Sunday. London. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
  44. Barrett, David (8 March 2015). "Police search home of Lord Bramall as part of paedophile sex abuse inquiry". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  45. Halliday, Josh (7 October 2015). "Panorama report: sex abuse claim against Leon Brittan 'began as joke'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  46. Laville, Sandra; Syal, Rajeev (21 March 2016). "Operation Midland: inquiry into alleged VIP paedophile ring collapses". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  47. 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.
  48. Evans, Martin (22 July 2019). "Carl Beech aka Nick found guilty of making up Westminster VIP paedophile ring". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 22 July 2019.
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

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