Jacob Rees-Mogg has said it would be a “silly overreaction” for the Conservative Party to remove the whip from Michael Heseltine after he suggesting Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street could be less damaging than Brexit.
His comments came as Brexiteers rounded on the pro-EU peer and former Deputy Prime Minister for remarks that infuriated some of Lord Heseltine’s Conservative colleagues.
Mr Rees-Mogg, the Conservative MP for North East Somerset, told The Independent that Lord Hesetine’s comments reminded him “of Enoch Powell calling on people to vote Labour in 1974 over the European issues”.
He continued: “Lord Heseltine would not find the hard left comfortable bedfellows but he is neither the first nor last to lose perspective and judgement over the EU.”
But asked whether he agreed with some in the party that the Conservative peer Lord Heseltine should have the whip removed, he replied: “No, that would be a silly overreaction.”
The right-wing Bow Group – members of which include the former Chancellor Norman Lamont and cabinet minister John Redwood – told the Daily Mail on Wednesday: “Heseltine has made clear it is his aim to prevent Brexit at all costs, including the sabotage of his own party and nation.
“The Conservative Party must therefore withdraw the whip and end the inevitable continuation of his sniping from inside the tent.”
Norman Tebbit, the former Tory cabinet minister, echoed the group’s call, adding: “I think it is unprecedented for a man in receipt of the Conservative whip to suggest that a Corbyn government would be preferable to a British government governing the UK, given that the alternative he is advocating is Brussels. It must call into question whether his loyalty is to the UK or a foreign power.”
Nigel Evans, a Conservative backbencher, also told The Sun: “Only a euro fanatic of the pedigree of Michael Heseltine could believe that a Venezuela loving Corbyn government would be preferable to leaving his beloved EU.
“It’s about time Tarzan hung up his loin cloth and got behind Theresa May who is delivering what the UK voted for and is doing it rather well without irrelevant interventions of the Jurassic Park era.”
It comes after Lord Heseltine said he believed that if there was any damage done by a Labour government then it would be short-lived, but that EU withdrawal could cause irreversible harm.
And earlier this month the senior peer wrote for The Independent, claiming that Tory MPs backing a hard Brexit were betraying the achievements of Conservative governments going back five decades.
Speaking on the Limehouse podcast, Lord Heseltine said: “Well, we have survived Labour governments before. Their damage tends to be short-term and capable of rectification. Brexit is not short-term and is not easily capable of rectification. There will be those who question whether the short-term pain justifies the avoidance of the long-term disaster.”
Lord Heseltine also argued that if public opinion significantly shifts on Brexit, then Mr Corbyn’s party could respond by distancing itself from Brexit and leaving the Conservatives to face to face the backlash. “When that happens, the Labour party will move, and the present Government will be left holding the baby,” he said.
“But then you have got to realise the present Government is supported by large numbers of people as opposed to Brexit as I am. How long will they remain within the tribe and loyal to the party?”
Asked how he would stop Brexit, the Conservative peer replied: “I think [a second referendum] would be a vehicle for ending Brexit, but personally I would rather parliament to do it either if this present parliament became hostile or because in an election the issue was rethought and a subsequent parliament did it. My preoccupation is ending Brexit: the means, well anything to hand.
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