Leon Brittan


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(b. London, 25 Sept. 1939)

British; Home Secretary 1983–85, Vice-President of the European Community 1989–99 (Commissioner for Competition 1989–93; for External Economic Affairs and Trade Policy 1993–5; and External Affairs 1995–9); Kt. 1989, Baron (life peer) 2000 Brittan was educated at Haberdashers' Aske's School and Trinity College, Cambridge. He was president of the Cambridge Union and part of a distinguished group of undergraduates who went on to Cabinet office. Trained as a lawyer—he was called to the bar in 1962—he became one of the country's leading libel lawyers and took silk in 1978. Active in Conservative politics from student days, he served as chairman of the Bow Group in 1964–5 and, after two unsuccessful attempts, was elected to parliament in 1974.

A friend and supporter of Margaret Thatcher, his talents were quickly recognized. After a brief and successful stint as the Conservative Party's liaison officer with the academic community, he was appointed in 1976 an Opposition spokesman on devolution and made his parliamentary reputation opposing the Labour government's devolution legislation. In 1979 he was appointed Minister of State at the Home Office and joined the Cabinet in 1981 as chief secretary to the Treasury. Two years later, at the age of 43, he was made Home Secretary. Though he handled a difficult brief well—one of the few holders of the office to have a good grasp of the Home Office—he was moved in 1985 in order to make way for Douglas Hurd. Appointed Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, he was almost immediately embroiled in a dispute with Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine over the future of the Westland helicopter company. The leak of part of a letter from the Attorney-General to Heseltine was traced to Brittan's office. After a heated meeting of the 1922 Committee in January 1986, he decided he no longer enjoyed the support of the parliamentary party and resigned.

Though Margaret Thatcher had publicly indicated she wished to see him return in due course to the Cabinet, she instead offered him in 1988 the post of one of the British Commissioners in the European Community. He took up the appointment in 1989. He made his mark as Commissioner dealing with external trade, achieving a notable success in GATT negotiations in 1993. In 1994 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency of the Commission. He resigned from the Commission in 1999, in the wake of corruption allegations against other Commissioners when Jacques Santer was EU President. He was Britain's longest-serving Commissioner.

He was knighted in 1989, apparently declining a peerage in order to leave open the possibility of a return to the House of Commons. However, he decided against this when he left the EU and was made a life peer in 2000.

Subjects: Politics.

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