Lord Lamont on Brexit, Grimsby and losing Hull to Lord Prescott

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 1 Mar 2019

Great opportunities exist outside of the EU for Grimsby to thrive, leave-endorsing Lord Lamont has told a business audience.

The former Chancellor also claimed Brussels’ stonewalling of negotiations over the controversial Irish backstop to secure a Brexit withdrawal deal will crack, as strongly-tied European economies look to avert their own economies being impacted by a no-deal.

Addressing Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner at Healing Manor Hotel, he told how Germany, Holland and the Republic of Ireland could force a re-visit of the issue as the Article 50 deadline - which he sees as moveable - nears. 

“Different governments will have different viewpoints,” he said of the 27 European states. “One shouldn’t believe the bland statements always made on television about how no movement on the Irish backstop is possible. I think there is a willingness to with individual governments, or the more important governments, be it Germany, Holland and Ireland. We may be moving to the beginning of the end of this.”

Lord Lamont in full flow at Healing Manor Hotel.

Sensing a weariness from the public, he said: “I think an area like this will have great opportunities outside of the EU. There is no reason why our trade with the EU won’t continue on the same level. I think it will continue tariff free, paperwork will be a little bit different, but it won’t be insurmountable. There may be extra cost but it won’t lead to a sharp fall off. We will have European opportunity and opportunity with other parts of the world. 

“There will be more flexibility on state aid, on things like regional development and industrial strategy, which could be very important for a place like this, looking at enterprise zones and free ports.  These are the things government will have much more freedom to initiate without interference from Brussels. 

“We have every opportunity for Grimsby to build itself the future it deserves.” 

Earlier in an interview with Humberbusiness.com, the town resident in his teenage years told how if the backstop is resolved he would advocate Theresa May’s deal. 

“To go on like that forever won’t really be the right course of action,” he said of the current position on the issue with the EU land border or EU terms. “There has to be an exit mechanism, and if that can be found - and I don’t know what our chances are of guaranteeing something very convincing - I would personally swallow very hard and accept the Prime Minister’s view.”

His position has been known since very shortly after leaving 11 Downing Street.

“I am a supporter of leave, I voted leave and I got into a lot of trouble a long time ago, in 1994, not long after I was Chancellor. I did a talk at Conservative Party Conference and people were very cross with me, as I said one day we would have to choose whether we wanted to go on being a member of the EU, which was developing into a very integrationalised and centralised model, or to choose a self governing country, which is just the choice faced by the British people. 

“I voted leave for political reasons, People say they don’t know the facts, the consequences about leaving, but people have been very reluctant to present the prospects of staying, and how it would be a very integrated, more centralised Europe in which we have less and less control of our own destiny. The vote, for me, was for self government, and self government is the best government in my opinion.

“I don’t think we have anything to fear. People have grown used to the psychological comfort of belonging to the EU. I’m not saying there will be no problems with adjustment, but I don’t see why we won’t cope like the rest of the world that doesn’t belong to te EU.”

Born in Lerwick, Shetland, Lord Lamont’s father, a surgeon, had moved to Grimsby Hospital when he was a boy, and the family settled in the town centre. His mother worked as a French teacher at St Martin’s School on Bargate.

“I lived my teenage years here, and while at university I continued to come back,” he said. “We were in Welholme Road, opposite the park, with trawler owners either side. It was a very happy time and I have fond memories.”
Boarding at Loretto School in Musselburgh, Scotland, and then going on to university to join the ‘Cambridge Mafia,’ weekends and holidays saw a strong Grimsby allegiance built up, particularly when it came to football.
“I used to go to Blundell Park when I lived here, and still come every now and again. I haven’t been since the last home game of last season, Notts County – a thrilling game – but always, every Saturday, it is the first football result I look for.”
He was also approached while shopping in Marylebone on the day of the Crystal Palace FA Cup tie by Town fans. “They invited me to go but alas there wasn’t a ticket,” he said, adding: “I hope next year we’re well positioned to fight for promotion.”  

Lord Lamont's connections with North East Lincolnshire continue, having been asked to join the Grimsby Town Deal partnership board at the request of another famous son, as the area becomes a pilot for a new way of working with Government on regeneration.

SIGNING: The £60 million Grimsby Town Deal was signed in July 2018. Neither David Ross or Lord Lamont were present, but Lord Henley and Jake Berry signed with Cllr Ray Oxby, leader of North East Lincolnshire Council.

“David Ross asked me,” he said. “I’ve known him for a few years now, I knew his father and I remember his grandfather as founder of Ross Group and Cosalt. When I lived here Grimsby was a pretty prosperous place, coming back regularly, I have seen a lot of problems. The decline of middle water fishing industry led to it, and although there are lots of positive things – the development of offshore wind and ports, the chemical industry on the Humber Bank many positive things happening – it has been very difficult to fill that gap. 

“There are huge social problems, drug addiction, crime and dereliction. The hollowing out of Freeman Street and high streets, common for so many town and issues with educational attainment. I was very interested to be invited, there’s only a limited amount I can do, but David thought I could be a pressure point in Whitehall, and I do that. It is an interesting combination of public and private organisations, and I’ve been in meetings with Greg Clark (Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), I can see he is very keen on the concept and sees it as something of a model for other towns with similar problems. One has to recognise all over the north there are other towns with the same difficult societal issues, so too the US.”

Looking at what needs to be achieved, he said: “There are a lot of housing issues that need to be confronted, a lot of dereliction. I know work on Freeman Street is underway, demolition of the tower blocks, and improving the environment is one way to change the perception of a town, and attract more businesses to come here.  People can be impatient ‘nothing’s happened,’ ‘where’s the money that has been promised’ but I know Government is prepared to support regeneration, things like the Kasbah and the Ice Factory. All these sorts of projects have got to get the private developers, who are key to doing it. I know things are going on and I am pretty optimistic some good will come out of this.” 

He said the proposed University of Lincoln campus would be a huge boost too. “I have witnessed in Lincoln how universities have completely transformed it, and it has been quite dramatic. “If it comes to fruition it is something that is tremendously important for the future.”

Aware he was addressing a Humber-wide audience, albeit on the South Bank, Lord Lamont recounted standing as the Conservative candidate for Hull East in the 1970 General Election. Sitting Labour MP Harry Pursey was retiring. He said: "I stood against a new candidate, a John Prescott, who managed to beat me by a small majority of 25,000, and despite his comfortable win refused to shake hands or talk to me at all!"

It is a safe bet a newly elected John Prescott wasn't on a commiseration call to defeated Tory candidate Norman Lamont in this archive picture. Lamont went on to become an MP two years later winning a  Kingston-upon-Thames by-election, having given up on Kingston-upon-Hull.

Political heavyweights Major and Lamont bowed out to Tony Blair and Prescott in the Labour landslide in 1997, and now both find themselves in the House of Lords.   

"We have since become good friends and I've found he is a very nice man indeed," Lord Lamont added. 

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