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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
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Sir Richard Shepherd – the finest of Parliamentarians

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Sir Richard Shepherd was one of the most principled and pleasant people that I knew in the House of Commons. Brian Sedgemore, left-wing Labour MP, once said to me "I much prefer the company of Tory MPs. Labour MPs are nasty people, they seem like nasty people, while Tory MPs are also nasty people but seem like nice people."

But Sir Richard Shepherd disproved the Sedgemore generalisation. He was a man of strong beliefs but he was genuinely courteous to friend and foe alike. He might sometimes seem like a 'toff' but he was state educated and his parents worked in the fledgling aviation industry. He went on to read economics at the London School of Economics, but did not seem to have been unduly harmed by the experience – being a committed free-marketer. A friend of his at LSE being Mick Jagger, also seems not to have emerged unduly harmed by this experience.

In 1979 Richard entered Parliament for the Aldridge-Brownhills constituency. In 1970 he narrowly failed to secure the nomination for the Brentford and Isleworth constituency, which instead selected Barney Hayhoe. If Richard had been elected to Parliament in 1970 at 29 years of age, he would have been one of the youngest Members of the House of Commons, but it was a fortunate miss as he would have been swept out of Parliament in 1997 as a consequence of that year's Labour landslide.

However, the period from 1970 to 1979 was spent fighting Parliamentary constituencies that favoured the Labour Party and founding along with his brother, John, the upmarket food emporium Partridges.

Once elected to the House of Commons in 1979 he was well to the fore in advocating industrial relations reforms and wanted to travel at a faster pace than that offered by James Prior, the Employment Secretary and 'Tory wet'.

In his early years in Parliament he was also a strong advocate of reform of the Official Secrets Act. Going as far as to make common cause with Tony Benn. Although Margaret Thatcher was a strong advocate for 'liberty', this did not stretch to matters of national security and it is likely that Richard's intellectual consistency on this issue deprived him of any chance of preferment, under the administration of the 'Great Lady'. Indeed, she pointedly refused to engage in correspondence with him on this particular issue.

In the 1990s he became the staunchest of opponents of the Maastricht Treaty and together we opposed the plans to abolish Sterling and imbed us even more deeply in the European Union. Today, the amazing fact is that only 24 of us out of over 340 Conservative MPs recognised this constitutional and economic capitulation and were prepared to defy the Conservative whip on this most crucial of votes.

In due course, Richard and five other Conservative MPs were prepared to lose the whip in voting against the imposition of VAT on domestic fuel. Some 28 years later that particular issue remains very much at the centre of our political debate.

In 1997 Richard held the Aldridge-Brownhills constituency with a much-reduced majority.

Twice during the 13 years that the Conservatives spent in opposition Richard put himself forward as a candidate to be Speaker of the House of Commons. No one would have been a more committed defender of the rights and privileges of Members of Parliament. Unfortunately, in politics 'good-guys' often do not win. On the first occasion the Labour Party used its substantial majority to elect a leading member of the 'McMafia' in the form of Michael Martin. On the second occasion the oleaginous John Bercow benefited from the campaigning skills of Labour's Tom Watson. As ever Richard lost philosophically and with good grace.

Richard Shepherd's character, belief, and conviction made him one of our finest parliamentarians. 

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