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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links