TRIBUTES were yesterday paid to former home secretary Leon Brittan who has died at the age of 75 after a long battle with cancer.
The ex-Conservative MP was a key figure in Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s and later became a European commissioner.
Prime Minister David Cameron said he had been a “dedicated and fiercely intelligent public servant”.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker described Lord Brittan as an “inspiring leader” who had helped to shape the European Union.
Former Tory leader William Hague also paid tribute to the Conservative peer, who was his predecessor as MP for Richmond, in North Yorkshire.
Commons leader Mr Hague said: “He was a kind, assiduous and brilliant man.”
In a statement Brittan’s family said he was a beloved husband, stepfather and step-grandfather.
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They said: “Leon passed away last night at his home in London after a long battle with cancer. We shall miss him enormously.
“As a family, we should like to pay tribute to him as a beloved husband to Diana and brother to Samuel, and a supportive and loving stepfather to Katharine and Victoria, and step-grandfather to their children.
“We also salute his extraordinary commitment to British public life as a member of parliament, minister, cabinet minister, European commissioner and peer – together with a distinguished career in law, and latterly in business.”
Former prime minister Sir John Major – who served alongside Lord Brittan in the Thatcher administration – said: “Leon Brittan had one of the most acute and perceptive brains in politics and he used it unsparingly for the public good.
“A shy but kindly man, he was always more likely to encourage than condemn and he will leave his wide circle of friends in and out of politics with many memories to cherish.”
Lord Brittan recently faced questions over his handling of child abuse allegations during his time in office.
The controversy centred on a dossier on alleged high-profile paedophiles handed to the then home secretary by former Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens. Lord Brittan insisted the proper procedures had been followed.
Former Conservative Party leader Lord Howard said it was a “tragedy” that Lord Brittan’s “last days were dogged by these quite unsubstantiated allegations” about the child abuse dossier, but did not think it had “very much effect on him”.
It was claimed the dossier containing the allegations had been “destroyed” by officials. Last year a review found no evidence that records were deliberately removed or destroyed.
Former Cabinet minister David Mellor last night said: “I’m especially sad he died after he was subjected to unwarranted criticism and innuendo. It’s sad for me that he’s died while that was uppermost in his mind.”
First elected in 1974, Lord Brittan was home secretary in Margaret Thatcher’s government from 1983 to 1985. He later became trade and industry secretary, resigning in 1986 during the row over British helicopter manufacturer Westland.
He quit when he was revealed as having authorised the leaking of a letter from the solicitor general criticising former defence secretary Michael Heseltine, who had resigned a few weeks earlier.
As an MP, Lord Brittan, who was raised in London, represented the constituencies of Cleveland and Whitby and Richmond in Yorkshire. He stood down from the Commons when he became a European commissioner in 1989.
Mr Cameron said: “As a central figure in Margaret Thatcher’s government, he helped her transform our country for the better.”