I first met Robin in 1962 when we were both speaking at an Anti Common Market meeting in Woolhampton organised by Marie Endean. I was, at that time, the Labour candidate for the Newbury Constituency and I remember being very impressed but also very nervous at being on the same platform as a baronet with a formidable educational background and a Lloyds Underwriter. When he spoke it was clear that he was master of his subject and made an unanswerable case for Britain not joining the EEC (Common Market) and he made it in his usual direct, no nonsense, matter of fact manner.
The audience lapped it up and went away convinced that the EEC was not for us. Little did I know then that we would sharing many more platforms and fighting shoulder to shoulder against the burgeoning power of the European project.
Robin’s contribution to the Eurorealist movement was massive and enduring and his belief that Britain was a great country that should be independent and self governing. He understood perfectly that joining the EEC would eventually mean the loss of British independence and self government.
He established and chaired the Anti Common Market League and was active in the National Referendum Campaign. He worked at national level with a wide circle of people including Enoch Powell, Peter Shore, Richard Body, Charles Frere-Smith , Ron Leighton,Charles Starkey and many others to support the parliamentarians opposing the European Communities Bill which only scraped through by eight votes after the Heath Government had misrepresented the intentions of the Treaty of Rome and misled Parliament into believing that joining the EEC would not result in any loss of British Sovereignty.
Robin continued his opposition to joining and he was a leading light of the “NO” Campaign in the 1975 Referendum Campaign which resulted in a Yes vote after the then Labour Government fooled the voters into believing that they had secured significant concessions which, of course, they had not.
The “NO” campaign was opposed by the Government and Opposition, by big business, the press and media (including the BBC) was out–financed by at least 20-1, yet in spite of that pro Common Market onslaught, 33% of the electorate voted to come out. Robin’s part in that unequal contest was a vital one and kept the flag of resistance flying.
And that was very important. Robin was convinced that the fight for independence should continue and that the issue of Britain’s membership should be kept alive and his leadership of Get Britain Out and the Anti Common Market Campaign did just that. His determination to fight the forces dedicated to ever closer European Union has eventually borne fruit in that the demand for radical reform or complete withdrawal is now mainstream policy.
It needed courage and determination to continue and be among the leaders of the Eurosceptic movement, especially for Robin who mixed in circles, including the Conservative Party, which were committed to Europe and considered anyone who disagreed with them as dotty, left wing and economically and financially illiterate. But he ploughed on for years and it was in 1986 that I became closely associated with him when I became chairman of the Anti Common Market Campaign in 1986. The Campaign was then made up of a number of individuals and affiliates but this was to change dramatically and would pose a challenge to Robin who was its Hon. Secretary – a challenge which he accepted loyally but I rather think with some trepidation.
The first big change was the opening of the Campaign to individual members with all that entailed financially and administratively, especially recruitment, collection of subscriptions, forming branches, arranging public meetings and an annual conference. Robin also had to deal with an elected national committee and all that entails – including criticism. However, he, typically, did not flinch or rebel – he simply got on with the job and turned the Campaign into the leading Eurosceptic organisation of that time. There were further challenges to come. The name of the Campaign was changed to The Campaign for an Independent Britain and, again, the job of introducing the change fell to Robin and the name CIB persists today.
Robin’s administrative and organising skills were remarkable and yet, along with his work for CIB and other eurosceptic organisations, managed to fit in with his family life, holding down a responsible job and enjoy some leisure. He certainly could not have done all this without the love and help of his wife, Wendy, who was a familiar figure at AGMs, running stalls and helping out in any other way necessary. Our sympathy and condolences go out to her and the family.
There is so much more that could be said about Robin’s life and achievements but there is one famous occasion which is burned on my memory – the CIB international conference against the Maastricht Treaty (which set up the European Union) that he arranged in Edinburgh. It was a huge organisational task and the conference was a great success. However, shortly before conference was due to begin the Danish Hotel where the conference was due to take place cancelled the Booking. Just imagine the shock. Disaster loomed and the conference seemed doomed. However, Robin didn’t panic he arranged alternative accommodation. The conference went on to its successful end and raised the profile of the eurosceptic movement in the UK and Europe. The Anti-Maastricht Alliance was launched as was the European Anti-Maastricht Alliance which is still active today and meets regularly.
Robin was a decent man with exceptional organising and administrative abilities, self effacing yet effective. He was a patriot who believed in Britain who was prepared to give a large part of his life to restoring to Britain its independence, its democracy and its ability to govern itself through its own elected government through institutions established over the centuries. His courage, commitment and hard work contributed hugely to keeping the flame of freedom alive and before his death he was able to see that the ideals he had fought for were at last being accepted by the majority and his aims now capable of achievement. He will be sadly missed by all those who knew him.
Lawyer who helped the Maastricht rebels, opening a wound that pains the Conservative Party to this day
LEOLIN PRICE, who has died aged 88, was the most senior of a trio of Eurosceptic lawyers (the others being Michael Shrimpton and Martin Howe) who provided legal advice for the anti-Maastricht campaign in Parliament in the early 1990’s; in 1993 he prepared Lord Rees-Mogg’s challenge to the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty.
With his relish for argument, taste for complex legal detail and scepticism about the EU and all its works, Price was ideally suited to the role of constitutional gadfly. In the end the Maastricht rebellion proved a major headache for the government during John Major’s troubled second term as prime minister, consuming over 200 hours of debate over 23 days in committee and producing 600 amendments, many of them drafted by Price. The dispute came close to scuppering the treaty and bringing down the government.
The European Communities (Amendment) Bill (aka the Maastricht Bill) eventually became law at the end of July 1993, but in a last-ditch effort to prevent this, the former editor of The Times Lord Rees-Mogg, supported by Price and David Pannick, QC (and backed by Sir James Goldsmith), applied for judicial review.
The substance of the case resolved around the nature of the “social protocol” which Major had secured during negotiations with Britain’s EU partners, which enabled Britain to opt out of the Social Chapter of the Treaty. The legal team argued that the protocol also increased the powers of the European Parliament – something which, under a 1978 Act, required specific parliamentary approval, which had never been given during the passage of the Bill bringing the Maastricht Treaty into British law.
The case garnered much publicity, but Rees-Mogg’s application was rejected in the court of first instance and on appeal, one judge describing as “an exaggeration” Price’s claim that the case was “perhaps the most important constitutional issue to be faced by the courts for 300 years”. The Treaty was duly ratified, and the lasting scars left on the Conservative Party have not healed to this day.
One of five children of a village schoolmaster, Arthur Leolin Price was born at Talybont-on-Usk in Breconshire and educated at Judd School, Tonbridge, from where he won a scholarship to Keble College, Oxford, to read History. During the war he served as an officer in the Royal Artillery, latterly as adjutant of the Indian Mountain Artillery Training Centre in Ambala, Punjab province.
On demob he returned to Oxford to read Law. Called to the Bar by Middle Temple in 1949, he soon established a reputation in commercial and chancery litigation. After taking Silk in 1968, as well as his work in Britain he developed a thriving international practice, representing clients in New South Wales and the Bahamas. Later he was appointed a deputy High Court judge.
Although Price was a lifelong Conservative and on the committee of the Society of Conservative Lawyers for more than two decades, he acted for Arthur Scargill during the 1980s; and in 1982 he advised Harriet Harman when, as legal officer for the National Council for Civil Liberties, she was found in contempt of court after showing restricted legal documents to a journalist. Price acted for her during the appeal process that led to the European Court of Human Rights overturning her conviction, successfully arguing that the prosecution had breached her right to freedom of expression. On the issue of Europe, Price always put principle before party, and after the Maastrich debates he campaigned against the subsequent Nice Treaty. In 2008 he supported the spread-betting millionaire Stuart Wheeler in his legal bid to force the government to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
Price served as a governor of Great Ormond Street Hospital, and in the 1970s successfully persuaded the Labour Chancellor Denis Healey to promote a legislative amendment permitting British royalties for JM Barrie’s Peter Pan to go to Great Ormond Street in perpetuity.
Leolin Price finally retired from work last June at the age of 88. He was appointed CBE in 1996.
He married, in 1963, Rosalind (Lindy) Lewis, the elder daughter of the Conservative peer Lord Brecon. She died in 1999, and he is survived by their two sons and two daughters.
Leolin Price, born May 11 1924, died March 24 2013.