Baroness Anelay is a former Foreign Office minister, and served until today as Minister of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union.
It was the Black Hawk helicopter that did it. It was 2015, and as a Foreign Office Minister I was touring Bosnia and Herzegovina, meeting victims of war and terror for whom British overseas power had been a ladder out of oppression.
Unfortunately for me, that particular ladder hadn’t materialised when it came to getting out of the helicopter. One ill-judged leap later, and I sustained an uncomfortable injury that has called time on my ministerial career after two decades on the Front Bench.
As I do so, it’s with a sense of optimism for our country. You do not get to sit in the House of Lords every day without realising that we are, and have always been, a special nation. The story of Britain is a long one, and in front of it is a future that is bright.
As a Minister in the Foreign Office, and then the Department for Exiting the EU, I have travelled the world and seen the contribution we make: through our defence budget, our commitment to overseas aid, our world leading inventors and entrepreneurs and our incredible diplomatic service.
They all put us in the best possible position to grasp the opportunities that Brexit can provide. I campaigned to remain in the referendum and would vote against another one happening. But I leave the department certain that the negotiations surrounding our exit, and our future relationship with the EU, will be successful.
We are getting more control of our borders, our money and our laws, and at the same time the course the European Union is taking – bold as it may be – is deeply integrationist, and increasingly unpalatable.
I started my work in public service with the Woking Citizens Advice Bureau, beginning as a volunteer advisor and ending as its President. The day job then involved few discussions about the European Union, national sovereignty or the possibility of Brexit.
But while it may not have been identified, the same basic desires were present: people seeking more control over their own lives – finding out where their problems come from, solving them, and grasping opportunities.
One thing my time in DEXEU has taught me is that there are real opportunities to our departure: the opportunity to grow the amount of trade we do with the rest of the world, the potential to lead a race to the top on global standards, and the opportunity to be that sovereign, independent nation again. Under my colleague, David Davis, we can grasp them, and I’ll do everything I can from the backbenches to make it happen.
Some people have taken the Brexit vote, combined with democratic decisions in other nationals across the globe, as a portent for some great ill that is sweeping our planet. But, and whisper it quietly, I believe that the history of humanity bends towards progress.
Whether it’s the decline in the number and proportion of people in absolute poverty, improvements in children’s education, or the global advance in life expectancy – we are living through an age of advancement.
And for those who are not the primary profiteers of progress, the world is becoming more sensitive and aware of their needs. I was lucky enough to work as the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, and met people who suffered some of the most distressing examples of mankind’s brutality: Rohingya people in Myanmar, the victims of sexual violence in Iraq and Colombia, those who lived through conflict in the Balkans. These terrible events are on the wane, and the concern the international community has for the victims of them has never been held so high.
When I met my counterparts at international meetings of ministers – usually with acronyms like GAC or FAC, which give no clue to what will actually be discussed – we, more often than not, held the shared purpose of improving the lives of the most vulnerable people on the planet, above all others.
I want to apply that principle from the backbenches as well, and will make my first speech as a backbencher again on the Government’s Sanctions Bill. It’s something on which I worked as the Sanctions Minister at the FCO, and allows us to set the terms by which we apply economic pressure on those countries whose Governments start abusing the power they have.
But I would never have been on this journey had it not been for our Conservative Party. And here too, there is a bright future ahead.
I remember knocking on my first door in 1976, and from there my involvement with the Party grew until I became the head of the Conservative Women’s Organisation from 1993 to 1996. The Party was very different back then, and I am delighted to see the way it has changed.
In the run up to the 1997 election we worked with some great potential MPs, helping them get selected and campaign. It included a particularly brilliant candidate in Maidenhead. Twenty years later Theresa May has got us to a situation where we have more female MPs than ever before, and is using the full force of the Government to ensure we deliver the decision a majority of voters cast in our EU Referendum.
We have never been so diverse, so in tune with the country, and we got so many votes as a result.
So if I have any advice for those entering public service it is this: first, go for it with everything you can muster. Second, be proud of our party. And third, always be careful when getting out of a Black Hawk helicopter.