Like the MPs who rebelled to put Winston Churchill into Downing Street in 1940, Tories should not allow party loyalty to prevent them from defending the interests of the United Kingdom at a moment of “supreme crisis”, Lord Heseltine said.
He told the MPs that today’s vote will be “the most important decision you will ever have to make”, and issued a plea to them: “Please do what you believe to be right for our country.”
Long-standing europhile Heseltine has been a prominent advocate of continued membership of the European Union and will speak at today’s giant Together for the Final Say rally to demand a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal. He had the Tory whip suspended earlier this year after saying he would vote Liberal Democrat in the European elections because of their anti-Brexit stance.
In his letter, Lord Heseltine said that, while many Tory MPs had clearly made their minds up to vote for Johnson’s deal, he believed that some were “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”.
He said: “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.
“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.”
The veteran peer said that his own pro-European position was forged in the aftermath of the Second World War.
But he said that the post-war vision of “European unity against communism and far-right populism and for free economies and societies” remained relevant today.
“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,” he said. “Overwhelmingly the younger generations believe this, and it is upon them that the future of our party rests.”
He added: “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.”
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