Official portrait of Lord Stoddart of Swindon

When Brexit was unfashionable, he was there

Lord Stoddart of Swindon, 1926-2020

Artillery Row

Enoch Powell wrote that, “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs”. For many of his 94 years, that would have been at least as true of David Stoddart, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, who died on 14 November, as of anybody.

Yet he died knowing that the cause to which he had devoted so much of his life had at last been achieved. That it had, against the most overwhelming odds, is in no small way down to his own tenacity in keeping the flame alight – and that cause was no less than the regaining of the United Kingdom’s freedom, independence and democracy from the European Union.

His fiery passion was combined with a meticulous attention to detail

When first I heard Lord Stoddart speak he had already been campaigning for British independence from the EU for longer than I had lived. Never had I heard a speech of such informed passion, delivered with a fieriness that I had not expected of a man already well past retirement age. It was the fiery oratory that came from being one of the last of a great generation of Welsh Labour politicians and trades unionists, brought up on the fire and brimstone preachers of the non-conformist chapels and many a packed public meeting.

Unusually, that fiery passion was combined with a meticulous attention to detail that made him doubly formidable. No Welsh windbag he – his rare combination of talents served him well in the two areas in which he was to shine.

When first elected to Parliament, as Labour MP for Swindon in 1970, he already had sixteen years’ experience as a Councillor and was Leader of the Council in his beloved Reading at the time. His experience, his attention to detail and, dare I say it, his ferocity, were ideally suited to the Whips’ Office, in which he served when the Government had a paper-thin majority. I felt doubly fortunate to count David Stoddart as a friend, for, had I been a foe, he would have put the fear of God in me.

Elevated to the Lords in 1983, for over a third of a century he fought a long, lonely battle in the overwhelmingly Europhile Upper House, first to challenge every surrender of power to Brussels, then to defend the democratic decision to leave the EU. Along with a handful of others, notably Lords Pearson and Vinson, he performed a vital task in the battle for Brexit. John O’Sullivan remembers the great Lord (Ralph) Harris of High Cross telling him that Lord Stoddart “was one of his strongest allies in the Lords on EU matters”.

David Stoddart was not only one of the last of the great Welsh Labour orators, but one of the few Labour politicians to withstand the temptation to abandon a lifetime of opposition to Brussels rule when Jacques Delors won over Neil Kinnock and most of the Labour Party with the lure of taxpayer-funded largesse – largesse on a truly epic scale in Brussels and Strasbourg.

In the noble tradition of Hugh Gaitskell, Peter Shore, Barbara Castle and Tony Benn, Lord Stoddart never abandoned his belief in the validity and supremacy of the UK’s parliamentary democracy.

It was easy enough to work out what Lord Stoddart believed in from the organisations he supported. A tireless campaigner for British independence, he served as Chairman of the Campaign for an Independent Britain for 22 years. A champion of freedom, he was for many years an active Council Member of The Freedom Association.

He was meticulous and thorough in all that he did, well into his nineties

Although his opposition to EU membership was unswerving, his readiness to work to that end with those of different parties and positions was notable in a Eurosceptic movement not known for such collegiate thinking. He put his readiness to work with other Eurosceptics into practice as a leading advocate of the Better Off Out campaign and the Joint Lords & Commons Better Off Out group. Again and again I recall him being generous in support of every pro-Brexit move, even when instigated by politicians less committed to the cause than he was.

His support for freedom of speech and for the freedom of smokers was every bit as consistent as his dedication to British independence from the European Union. He was meticulous and thorough in all that he did, well into his nineties. That combination of strongly held beliefs and formidable attention to detail served him well and made him an impressive advocate for the causes he unswervingly supported.

Following the Brexit referendum, what I wanted most of all was for Lord Stoddart to witness the final victory of his lifetime’s work. On 29 March last year, when Theresa May promised we would leave the EU, I had planned to have him lower the EU flag and raise the Union Jack on the boat I had hired for the occasion, right by the Houses of Parliament. Sadly, that was not to be, but he did still live to see his country regain the independence he had worked so hard to achieve.

Now, with Kate Hoey, Gisela Stuart and other Labour Party champions of Brexit taking their places in the House of Lords, a new generation will continue the great and unselfish work that he carried out for so many years. He was a good man and he put his talents to good use. My condolences to Jenny and all his family.

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