Sir Ian Sinclair: Lawyer who helped ease Britain’s entry into the EEC

 

Apart from Edward Heath himself, his negotiator-in-chief Geoffrey Ripon and the pivotal civil servant Sir Con O’Neill, no individual did more to facilitate the UK’s entry into the EEC than the Chief Legal Adviser to the Government, Sir Ian Sinclair.

 In the best sense he was a heavyweight lawyers’ lawyer. Discretion prevailed. Small talk apart, the only sliver of substance he ever confided in me about matters of state was in his quiet, precise way: “Let us leave it at that – that I was deeply grateful as a British citizen that you and 68 Labour colleagues defied a three-line whip on 21 October 1971 to vote in favour of British entry [to the EEC].” Publicly he was an objective adviser on legal complexities. Privately he was a convinced European.

Ian McTaggart Sinclair was the son of a successful Glasgow businessman. He went to Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh, where he excelled in Classics, winning the Scott Essay Prize, leading to a place at King’s College, Cambridge in 1943. After a year of Part One of the Classics Tripos, intermittently supervised by Frank Adcock and Patrick Wilkinson – both heavily engaged at Bletchley Park – he volunteered for military service.

On Wilkinson’s recommendation he was posted to the Intelligence Corps and spent two years with the Field Security Service in India and Malaya. This hazardous late-teenage experience had a profound effect, in that in later life he would do everything to avoid messy military action. “The trouble in Malaya,” he told me, “was that it was difficult to ascertain who were friends and who the enemy ...Politicians who have experienced fighting are less likely to be casual about sending other people’s fathers, brothers and sons to war.”

Returning to King’s in 1947, Sinclair persuaded the college, in the light of his Far East experience, to allow him to read Law, specialising in international Law. This showed determination, since King’s, under the provostship of Sir John Shepard, considered that Law was not a university subject. He completed a BA in 1948, benefiting from what he thought were the inspiring lectures of Hersch Lauterpacht, Whewell Professor of International Law. After graduating LLB with honours in 1949, Sinclair was to spend the next third of a century climbing the ladder of the Legal Department of the Foreign Office.

As a junior member of the legal team Sinclair thought of resigning over Selwyn Lloyd’s deceptions at Rambouillet during the Suez Crisis. But he and his wife, Barbara Lenton, whom he had married in 1954 – and who, having been a wonderful support, died six weeks before Sinclair – decided it would be pointless to “throw up” his career to little or no effect. Gestures and grandstanding were not in Sinclair’s nature.

His years (1957-60) as Legal Adviser to the British Embassy in Bonn confirmed his European commitment. It also introduced him to the big stage, involving contact at meetings with the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and his Economics Minister (and successor as Chancellor) Ludwig Erhard. From 1960 until 1963 he was immersed in Macmillan’s forlorn attempt to gain British entry to the Common Market, which was vetoed by De Gaulle.

In 1964 Sinclair was sent to New York as Legal Adviser to the UK Mission to the UN. Because he came to respect UN procedures he was one of those who persuaded Margaret Thatcher to adhere to UN resolutions in the Falklands conflict. He spent another formative period as Legal Counsellor to the British Embassy in Washington until returning to London as Deputy Legal Adviser to the government. He was promoted in 1973 to Second Legal Adviser and in 1976 given the top job.

He had the satisfaction of achieving under Heath what he and others had failed to achieve under Macmillan. He was a master of the small print of treaties – though he pleaded with friends not to be thought of as the ultimate pedant. In particular he mastered the intricacies of the Common Agricultural Policy and formed a good working relationship with Sicco Mansholt and Pierre Lardinois, the powerful Agriculture Commissioners.

In  1982 Sinclair devised the plan for a military exclusion zone around the Falkland Islands. Had he been consulted about the decision to sink the Belgrano, and had his legal advice been taken, the bitter fighting and the loss of life might have been avoided. At the crucial moment he was flying south; had the Cabinet wished they could probably have contacted him on Ascension Island or in the air. The fact that they chose not to make the effort suggests that they knew that his advice would have been unpalatable.

In 1984, out of tune with Thatcher, Sinclair took early retirement and returned to the Bar. A Visiting Professor of International Law at King’s College, London, he did a five-year stint on the UN’s International Law Commission. Away from work, Sinclair was an acknowledged authority on seabirds and waders.

Ian McTaggart Sinclair, lawyer: born Glasgow 14 January 1926; legal adviser, Foreign Office, 1950-84; barrister practising public international law 1984–2005; Visiting Professor of International Law, King’s College, London 1989–93; CMG 1972, KCMG 1977; married 1954 Barbara Elizabeth Lenton (two sons, one daughter); died 8 July 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Sport
Floyd Mayweather will relinquish his five world titles after beating Manny Pacquiao
boxing
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
News
Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves has defended fans use of the word 'Yid'
people
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living