Portillo to speak at Hanse Festival

Chris BishopFormer Tory front-bencher Michael Portillowill be speaking after a dinner in King's Lynn on July 30 as part of theHanse Festival, which sees the town commemorate its historic links with Baltic and Scandinavian ports.Chris Bishop

Britain doesn't need to be part of an EU super state to forge stronger trade links with Europe.

That, perhaps not surprisingly, is likely to be the message from former Tory front-bencher turned broadcaster Michael Portillo, when he delivers a keynote lecture during Norfolk's forthcoming Hanseatic Festival.

Mr Portillo - a renowned Euro-sceptic - will be speaking after a dinner at King's Lynn Corn Exchange on Thursday, July 30.

It comes hours after a replica medieval cargo ship arrives in Lynn for the opening of the Hanse Festival, which sees the town commemorate its historic links with Baltic and Scandinavian ports, and celebrate its membership of the modern Hanse.

'We have always made our living as a maritime nation,' said Mr Portillo. 'Not just with our nearest neighbours in Europe or the Hanseatic League, but with India, Asia Pacific and the Americas.'

Mr Portillo, MP for Enfield Southgate from 1984-1997, was a whip, transport minister, employment secretary and secretary of state for defence.

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After losing the seat amid New Labour's landslide, he turned to journalism and his work has included a series on great railway journeys and a radio documentary about Wagner.

Mr Portillo was re-elected to Parliament after winning the Kensington and Chelsea by-election, in 1999. He became shadow chancellor, and when the Tories lost the 2001 election, he launched an unsuccessful bid for the party leadership, before leaving the Commons in 2005.

The son of a Spanish civil war refugee, he believes a change of colour in Number 10 could spell stormy times ahead for the EU.

'The idea we need a political union for free trade doesn't hold water. I don't think the British are in any way insular or xenophobic.

'If there was a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon, it's pretty clear it would go down, which is why president Sarzkozy etc are worried about a change of government.'

Mr Portillo's visit comes a week after the Norwich North by-election, seen by many as a pivotal point in the run-up to the election.

'It's obviously a very unwelcome by-election for Labour,' he said. 'The MP, whatever he may have done recently, was clearly popular and the fact he's been forced out has caused resentment. All eyes will be on East Anglia. If Labour lose it, it's a catastrophe.'

The Hanse Festival takes place over the weekend of July 30 to August 2, beginning with the arrival of the Lisa Von Lubeck, a replica 15th-century sailing ship in Lynn. Mr Portillo will be speaking at the Corn Exchange on July 30 (7.30pm) - call 01553 764864 to book.