Brexit: Lord Heseltine says he is ‘angry’ at ‘trauma’ of situation
The UK completed its formal separation from the European Union on Thursday, marking an end to four years of back-and-forth negotiations between Westminster and Brussels. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his EU counterpart, the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, agreed on an eleventh-hour trade deal on Christmas eve after weeks of eyeballing one another. Many have noted that the intense squabbles and bickering between those who voted Remain and Leave in the historic 2016 vote would now come to an end.
Lord Heseltine, the former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister under John Major and arch-Remainer, however, has refused to give up the fight.
In the waning days of 2020, he wrote a piece for the i newspaper, in which he compared the Brexit deal with the Treaty of Versailles, the agreement which brought the World War 1 to an end, but effectively marked the beginning of the short road to WW2, as Germany became squeezed and weak by its European counterparts.
Lord Heseltine quoted the French General, Marshal Foch, who said of the Treaty: “This is not peace, this is an armistice for 20 years.”
The Tory Lord, as he has several times before, argued that future generations of Britain will “come to resent this country’s marginalisation in the corridors of European power”.
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He concluded that: “We will hold the Brexiteers to account – a new generation will seek to re-join the EU.
“That is where British self-interest can be best served.”
His comments have piqued much interest.
Tim Bale, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University, told Express.co.uk that while the politician “has a valid point” in the trade agreement being far from the final say on the UK’s relationship with the EU, his comparison with the historic Versailles Treaty was “novel” and ironic.
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He said: “The deal was, after all, a mutually agreed compromise rather than, like Versailles, a punitive treaty imposed by the victors on the vanquished.
“In any case, I think many of us have had enough of hearing tired old Second World War analogies from the Leave Side.
“I’m not sure Remainers suddenly talking about the First World War, however novel, is much of an improvement.”
Lord Heseltine’s past four years have been characterised by his certainty that the UK will eventually rejoin the EU.
His beliefs were so strong that he took the unprecedented step of urging voters to back the Liberal Democrats in the 2019 election, whose leader Jo Swinson promised to revoke Brexit without a referendum.
In 2017, the Tory peer backed the demand for a parliamentary vote on the final deal to be written into legislation.
Then, in 2019, during an interview with LBC radio, he claimed the UK would rejoin the Brussels bloc before the 2024 general election, something that he claimed the EU would readily accept.
He said: “If you look at the age groups, the elderly voters are pro-Brexit, once you get down in the new voters, the middle ages and below, then they are very anti-Brexit.
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“It’s a generational issue and that is not particularly convenient for my party but yes I’m absolutely sure that in future generations the absolute, historic, inescapable fact of our relationship with Europe will bear in.”
As things stand, it looks unlikely that the UK will sign back up to the EU before 2024.
The main Remain backing opposition party, Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour, has already promised that should it win, it will not seek any major changes to the UK’s relationship with the EU.
He told The Guardian: “I’m determined the next general election will be fought on our terms, not somebody else’s terms.
“We’ve left the EU and the remain/leave argument is over. Amongst the reasons for voting for the deal is to allow that closure.
“In our general election campaign in 2024, we will be a future-looking Labour party and a future Labour government, not one that looks behind us.”
This “get on with it” rhetoric from Sir Keir is rooted in his “new management” Labour brand.
In giving up hopes of a Remain outcome – Sir Keir was one of the main architects of a People’s Vote – many have said that the party leader hopes to win back the working class voters it lost to the Conservatives in 2019.
Steven Fielding, Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham, told Express.co.uk that Sir Keir was being “careful” with his Brexit stance, supporting the Government’s deal, not putting too much pressure on Mr Johnson, so there wasn’t any room for him to be branded a “secret Remainer”.
Many Labour MPs are dissatisfied with Sir Keir’s Brexit stance – 37 voted against or abstained from giving their say on the Brexit deal – but as Prof Fielding said: “Starmer doesn’t want to be positioned, because if he does, he knows what Johnson will say, he’ll say ‘ah Starmer, you don’t really want to leave the EU do you?’
“This is all about winning back the hearts and the minds of Red Wall voters, so he doesn’t want to be painted as somebody who is secretly a Remainer that wants to subvert the Brexit vote, and wants to go against the decision of the British public that was pretty clear in the 2019 election.
“So this is one reason for his clarity and support for the Government, he doesn’t want those Red Wall and Leave voters that abandoned Labour in 2019 to be persuaded that Starmer in any kind of way as a reluctant Leaver – as someone who is a secret Remainer.”
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