Henry Plumb was a Conservative, a patriot and a committed European.
He regarded the European Communities, later the European Union, both as a project to build peace and prosperity in a continent brought to its knees by war, and as a means by which our own country could protect and advance British interests.
Having led the National Farmers’ Union, Henry was elected to the European Parliament in 1979. Three years later, he became leader of the Conservative Group of MEPs. From the start, he saw that the Conservatives would get greater leverage over parliamentary debates and legislation if they worked with other parties on the centre-right and successfully negotiated a partnership with the EPP which gave the Conservative delegation the advantage of being part of a big parliamentary force without having to subscribe to the EPP’s aspirations for a federal Europe.
Henry was liked and trusted by his EP colleagues from all political groups - and those qualities were important in his election first to chair the Parliament’s Agriculture Committee and then as President of the European Parliament. He was the only British MEP to hold that position.
He was also a canny political operator. The National Archives hold a letter from Henry to Margaret Thatcher in which he emphasises the importance of cooperation among the non-socialist parties in the Parliament and tells her of his decision to withdraw the Conservative candidate for the EP Presidency in order to rally behind a French contender, Pierre Pfimlin, who stood a better chance of winning. Henry added that the other centre-right parties would owe the Conservatives a favour the next time that the Presidency came up for election. He was right on both counts: Pfimlin was elected, and his successor three years later was Henry Plumb.
As President of the Parliament, Lord Plumb oversaw the implementation of the Single European Act, Mrs Thatcher’s core European policy objective, and the introduction of the annual Sakharov Prize to honour champions of democracy and human rights. Henry awarded the first such prize jointly to Nelson Mandela and the Russian dissident Anatoly Marchenko.
After leaving the European Parliament in 1999, Lord Plumb remained active in politics. During my first two years as Europe Minister, Henry was an assiduous member of the Lords European Union Committee. He was always courteous and good humoured - but I knew that I needed to do my homework thoroughly whenever I was due to give evidence!
All of us in the CEF can be proud to have had Henry Plumb as our Patron. We send our condolences to his family and honour the memory of a man who served his country with such distinction over so many years.
Rt Hon Sir David Lidington KCB CBE
Chair, Conservative European Forum