Lord Heseltine, the Conservative former Deputy Prime Minister, has written to every Conservative MP calling on them not to give indicative approval to Boris Johnson’s hard Brexit proposal.
In his letter, Lord Heseltine states:
“I do not call on any Conservative colleague to defy the whip lightly … Loyalty to the party whip is the traditional way for Conservatives to behave but defying it in moments of supreme crisis to defend the interests of our nation is the greatest of Conservative traditions … I understand the temptation to just get this over with, supposedly to ‘get Brexit done’. But this would not get Brexit done. It will, instead, be the start of a long and bitter series of negotiations for our country which could still end in a No Deal outcome.”
The full text of Lord Heseltine’s letter follows:
I fully appreciate that many of you will have made up your minds about your vote on Saturday. Everything I read in the press indicates, however, that for some there is a very difficult choice to make. Put simply you are torn between your loyalty to OUR party which you were elected to serve and your sense that the issues involved in Brexit are of such transcending national importance that your personal convictions must determine your vote.
I do not call on any Conservative colleague to defy the whip lightly. I am all too familiar with the pressures and friendships that come to bear in so lonely a choice. Loyalty to the party whip is the traditional way for Conservatives to behave but defying it in moments of supreme crisis to defend the interests of our nation is the greatest of Conservative traditions. There are many precedents where those who have risen to serve our party at its highest levels have in their careers put their sense of national purpose first. The most conspicuous is, of course, that of those who made Winston Churchill Prime Minister in 1940.
I make no claim to match the political courage of the men and women of May 1940. But I know how it is to vote against our party. I have done it three times in my life: I refused to vote against the Labour government’s race relations legislation in the late 1960s. A few weeks later the party changed its position; on the poll tax, a policy the party abandoned to win the 1992 election; and on the European issue when, at the cost of losing the whip in the Lords, I voted to make sure the Commons could stop No Deal. A few weeks later the House of Commons insisted on just that power.
My position on Europe was forged in the still smouldering fires of the last war. I heard the rallying cry for European unity against Communism and far-right populism and for free economies and societies. I stand by that vision still, and I believe that many Conservatives believe that and, equally importantly, that this country should be at the heart of the process and not side-lined from it. Overwhelmingly the younger generations believe this, and it is upon them that the future of our party rests.
I understand the temptation to just get this over with, supposedly to ‘get Brexit done’. But this would not get Brexit done. It will, instead, be the start of a long and bitter series of negotiations for our country which could still end in a no deal outcome. The more those negotiations satisfy the more extreme of anti-Europeans the more likely No Deal becomes.
Sharing power can be fraught with frustration. The processes of gaining agreement by dialogue and consensus is tedious and prolonged but that is the price of a democratic system: it has many faults, but it is better than all the others.
You will know with your knowledge of European history how relatively privileged so long a period of peace has made us. Every tier of government has its long and boring processes. You may have felt it even in your august House and certainly in the corridors of local government, but if I remember it was one of us who coined the thought ‘Jaw Jaw not War War’.
I wish you well in the most important decision you will ever have to make. Please do what you believe to be right for our country.
The Rt Hon the Lord Heseltine CH