Tribute to Peter Sutherland

President of the Federal Trust (2004 – 2017)

There was great sadness in the Federal Trust when we learned at the weekend of the death of our former President, Peter Sutherland. During the years of his Presidency he was an enthusiastic supporter of the Trust, both morally and materially. He regularly attended both our internal and our public meetings, and was always at hand with advice and encouragement. Our admiration for Peter’s contribution to the national and international European debate was matched by our gratitude for his continuing interest in the more parochial affairs of the Federal Trust.

It might be thought surprising that a major political and economic leader like Peter Sutherland found time and appetite to become President of the Federal Trust. Federalism, particularly in the European context, is not a philosophy widely embraced, or even understood in the British political debate. Other prominent members of the political and financial elite to which Peter undoubtedly belonged might well have considered that the Trust was condemned simply to be a voice “crying in the wilderness,” and was therefore unworthy of their support.

This was emphatically not Peter’s approach. For all his success in the cutthroat worlds of politics and high finance, he was deeply reflective and humane man. He simply found the ideas for which the Federal Trust stands congenial to his own view of the world and he greatly admired in particular our former Chairman John PInder. That was in his mind a more than sufficient basis for a fruitful partnership between himself and the Trust. Although Peter is perhaps best known as the founding father of the World Trade Organization, his European philosophy was not exclusively an economic one. Like many of us in the Trust, he believed above all that the model of European integration represented by the European Union is a morally and ethically superior form of political organization to that which preceded it. He often quoted and certainly shared the view of President Mitterrand that “nationalism means war.”  This moral basis for his Europeanism sat easily with Peter’s deep Christian convictions, which found further expression in the charitable activities to which he devoted much time and resources.

Peter was not surprised by the result of the European referendum of 2016. He had for some time noted a frenetic and coarsened tone in the British European debate, which greatly distressed him. I find it fitting that until the very eve of his incapacitation he was still vigorously advocating in public the merits of the European Union  and British membership of it.  Those of us who remain can never be deprived of happy and stimulating memories of the time we spent with Peter. Nor will we ever lose sight of the example he leaves to us.  The coming years are likely to make his example yet more relevant and yet more inspiring than ever before.


Brendan Donnelly (Director, Federal Trust)

10th January 2018



Watch Peter Sutherland’s speech to our conference More Europe in this Union? The future of immigration and asylum policy in Europe helid in November 2015 here: