John Nott

The Right Honourable
Sir John Nott
Secretary of State for Defence
In office
5 January 1981  6 January 1983
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Francis Pym
Succeeded by Michael Heseltine
Secretary of State for Trade
In office
4 May 1979  5 January 1981
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by John Smith
Succeeded by John Biffen
Member of Parliament
for St Ives
In office
31 March 1966  9 June 1983
Preceded by Greville Howard
Succeeded by David Harris
Personal details
Born (1932-02-01) 1 February 1932
Bideford, Devon, England United Kingdom
Political party Conservative
Alma mater Bradfield College
Trinity College, Cambridge
Military service
Service/branch British Army
2nd Gurkha Rifles
Years of service 1952–1956
Rank Lieutenant

Sir John William Frederic Nott KCB[1] (born 1 February 1932) is a former British Conservative Party politician prominent in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He featured heavily in the public eye as Secretary of State for Defence during the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands and the subsequent Falklands War. In 2016, he claimed David Cameron had poisoned the EU referendum debate.

Early life

Born in Bideford, Devon, the son of Richard Nott and Phyllis (née Francis), Nott was educated at Bradfield College and was commissioned as a regular officer in the 2nd Gurkha Rifles (1952–1956). He served in the Malayan emergency after a period of service with the Royal Scots. He left to study law and economics at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was President of the Cambridge Union Society. He was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1959. At Cambridge he met his future wife Miloska, a Slovene. Lady Nott was awarded an OBE in 2012 for her humanitarian work. They have two sons and a daughter.

Member of Parliament

Nott was Member of Parliament for St Ives in Cornwall from 1966 to 1983. He was the last person to commence his parliamentary career under the nearly obsolete National Liberal label. The National Liberals were formally absorbed by the Conservatives in 1968, after which Nott sat as a Conservative MP.

In government

Nott served in the early 1970s government of Prime Minister Ted Heath as Economic Secretary to the Treasury. He joined the shadow cabinet in 1976 and the Cabinet when Margaret Thatcher won the 1979 general election. With this appointment to the cabinet, he was made a Privy Counsellor.[1] He served first as Secretary of State for Trade which incorporated The Department of Prices & Consumer Affairs. Nott was responsible for repealing the Prices & Incomes policy and played a leading role in the abolition of Exchange Control. The Department of Trade also covered responsibility for Shipping and Aviation. Nott announced the privatisation of British Airways, the first privatisation of the Thatcher Government. He was moved to Defence in the reshuffle of January 1981.

He was widely criticised by the Royal Navy chiefs over the 1981 Defence White Paper for his decision to cut back on government naval expenditure during the severe economic recession of the early 1980s; the cuts originally included the proposed scrapping of the Antarctic patrol ship HMS Endurance and the reduction of the Surface Fleet to 50 frigates and from three to two Aircraft Carriers. He switched the resultant savings into nuclear submarines, naval weapon systems and air defence. He announced and took through Parliament the upgrading of the nuclear deterrent to the current Trident system (D5).

Resignation and retirement

Nott offered his resignation as Defence Secretary to Thatcher following the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands in March 1982. Unlike then Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington, however, the resignation was not accepted. Nott remained Secretary of State for Defence throughout the four-month conflict. He was eventually replaced by Michael Heseltine in January 1983 when Nott announced he would not seek re-election in 1983. In the same year, he was knighted, as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.[1]

Nott, John Major and Malcolm Rifkind are the only surviving members of Mrs Thatcher's cabinet who do not currently sit in either house of Parliament.

In 1985, he became Chairman and Chief Executive of the banking firm Lazard Brothers. He was Chairman of Hillsdown Holdings, a multi-national food company, the Canadian firm Maple Leaf Foods, Deputy Chairman of Royal Insurance and other companies. He was an adviser to APAX Partners and Freshfields. Currently he is a supporter of Brexit, the move to leave the European Union. He now lives on his farm at St Erth in Cornwall.

Personal life

Nott's son, Julian Nott, is a film composer, screenwriter and director, most famous for writing the scores for the Wallace & Gromit and Peppa Pig animated short films. Nott's other son, William, works for an international oil company in London. Nott's daughter, Sasha, is married to the Member of Parliament for East Devon, Hugo Swire MP.


The title of Nott's autobiography Here Today, Gone Tomorrow is a reference to an interview conducted by Sir Robin Day in October 1982. Day described Nott, who had already announced or was shortly to announce that he would not stand at the next election, as "a transient, here-today and, if I may say so, gone-tomorrow politician." He asked whether the public should believe the MP's statements on defence cuts. Nott promptly stood up calling the interview "ridiculous", removed his microphone and walked off the set.[2]

Nott's second book, Mr Wonderful Takes a Cruise, was published in 1988.

In 2007, he published a family history entitled Haven't We Been Here Before.

In 2012, wrote the introduction to Stephen Tyrrell's Trewinnard - A Cornish History about his home in Cornwall.

Nott's fourth book, Mr Wonderful Seeks Immortality, was published in 2014.

In the media

Nott was interviewed about the rise of Thatcherism for the 2006 BBC TV documentary series Tory! Tory! Tory!.

European Union referendum

In 2016, Nott criticised the "poisoned EU debate" in the Conservative Party, and announced he would not renew his party membership until there was change of leadership.[3]

Nott was portrayed by Clive Merrison in the 2002 BBC production of Ian Curteis's controversial The Falklands Play. In the film The Iron Lady Nott is played by Angus Wright.


  1. 1 2 3 "Janus: The Papers of Sir John Nott".
  2. northcliffe (16 June 2011). "John Nott. Walks out of interview" via YouTube.
  3. Peter Dominiczak (9 June 2016). "Margaret Thatcher's defence secretary Sir John Nott suspends Tory membership because of 'poisonous' EU campaign". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 June 2016.
  • Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: recollections of an errant politician, Nott's autobiography, Politico's Publishing, ISBN 1-84275-030-5
  • Who's Who in European Institutions and Organizations, p. 561, col. 1
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Greville Howard
Member of Parliament for St Ives
Succeeded by
David Harris
Political offices
Preceded by
John Smith
Secretary of State for Trade
Succeeded by
John Biffen
Preceded by
Francis Pym
Secretary of State for Defence
Succeeded by
Michael Heseltine
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