Michael Heseltine backs new EU referendum as he casts doubt over PM securing backing for Brexit deal

Michael Heseltine backs new EU referendum as he casts doubt over PM securing backing for Brexit deal

Michael Heseltine has cast doubt over Theresa May securing a Brexit deal that can pass the Commons as he threw his support behind The Independent’s campaign for a new EU referendum.

Lord Heseltine, the former deputy prime minister in John Major’s administration, said in his view there has never been “such an unpredictable, calamitous set of events facing” the country.

The Tory peer also poured scorn on Boris Johnson’s niqab remarks, and said the former foreign secretary should apologise for his comments that could have a “ripple effect” and embolden the right wing.

His remarks came as The Independent’s campaign for a Final Say referendum on any Brexit deal reached by the prime minister in Brussels, gathered pace, with more than 700,000 people having signed the petition.

Last week the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) also published its first tranche of 24 technical papers detailing the government’s preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

Among the documents it was revealed that credit card users could face a new “Brexit tax”, drug companies were told to build six-week supplies of medicines and UK citizens living in Europe could also lose access to pension income through new red tape. 

“My position is quite clear,” said Lord Heseltine. “The Brexiteers have had two years in which to produce a position along the lines in which they believe and after two years they’ve produced absolutely nothing except a growing sense of panic.”

He continued: “At the moment there is no evidence there will be a deal – if there is, is there a deal that is acceptable to the House of Commons? It’s a huge question.”

Pressed on whether he believed the prime minister could get a deal through the chamber, he added: “I think it’s very unlikely she’ll get a deal through the House of Commons.”

Lord Heseltine said that for months he has been saying there “had to be a second test of public opinion” either through a general election or a second EU referendum.

“I think probably a referendum,” he said when asked which he would prefer. “It’s one or the other. Events will dictate which it is.”

While the prime minister has categorically ruled out a second referendum “under any circumstances”, Labour has left the option on the table should parliament reject Ms May’s agreement with the EU or if a no-deal Brexit is looming.

On Friday, John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor and one of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest allies, said Labour would rule nothing out – echoing comments made by his frontbench colleague Sir Keir Starmer the previous day.

Referring to Mr Johnson’s column in the Daily Telegraph, in which the former foreign secretary said those wearing niqabs resembled “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”, Lord Heseltine added: “I think he should apologise.

“My concern is the ripple effect. If people like him start using language that stimulates the worst elements of racism, it licences people to go further with impunity. ‘If Boris can say it, I can say it’. It becomes the sort of slogan of the racist element of the right wing.”

He suggested there could only be two explanations for the contentious column that attracted widespread criticism. “One is that it’s a mistake and if it’s a mistake he could say so. The other is that he calculates it would advance his street cred with the right wing of the Tory party. And I think it’s possible he’s right with that judgement.”

How to Brexit-proof your life

Asked whether he believed it was likely Mr Johnson would challenge the prime minister for leadership of the Conservative Party, Lord Heseltine added: “I think it’s much more likely that events will dictate the pace of change.

“I would not expect him to make a decisive move – the move may be made inevitable by vacuums or by other people signing letters of no confidence, all these sorts of things, or by losses of votes in the House of Commons.

“There has never been in my view such an unpredictable, calamitous set of events facing us.”


The Independent has launched its #FinalSay campaign to demand that voters are given a voice on the final Brexit deal.

Sign our petition here

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