Theresa May urged to withdraw Tory whip from Michael Heseltine

Lord Heseltine

Theresa May has been urged by leading Brexit supporters to withdraw the Conservative whip from Michael Heseltine over his “unprecedented” comments suggesting a Jeremy Corbyn government might be preferable to leaving the EU.

Norman Tebbit, the former cabinet minister and arch-Brexiter, questioned his former colleague’s loyalty to his country and said the peer should be banned from the Tory benches in the Lords.

“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,” he said.

“It must call into question whether his loyalty is to the UK or a foreign power.”

The Bow Group, a rightwing Conservative pressure group whose patrons include Norman Lamont and John Redwood, said: “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.”

Tebbit, a former Conservative cabinet minister, said the Bow Group was “absolutely right to make this call”.

Another Brexit supporter, the Tory MP Nigel Evans, 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.

“A run on the pound and a return to the damaging, state-controlled industries of the 60s would inflict immense damage on the UK.”

Lord Heseltine incurred the wrath of his colleagues after the Guardian reported that he told the Limehouse podcast that a Labour government led by Corbyn could cause less damage than Brexit.

The longstanding pro-EU politician signalled that he still views a Labour government as having a negative effect on the country but said leaving the EU could be worse in the long term.

He also suggested Labour would eventually turn against Brexit and the Conservatives would be “left holding the baby”, as leaving the EU grows more unpopular.

Asked what could happen under five years of a Corbyn government, he 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.”

Heseltine argued public opinion was already beginning to move against Brexit and Labour would end up changing its current position to one in favour of the EU, which could put the Conservatives in trouble with their pro-remain voters.

“If you look at the polls there is probably a bigger majority against Brexit than the referendum secured, but that, I think, will continue to happen and it will become more and more unpopular as people realise what it’s all about,” he said in the podcast, named after the declaration that gave rise to the Social Democratic party and hosted by the activist William Porteous.

“When that happens, the Labour party will move, and the present government will be left holding the baby.

“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 about his comments, Heseltine told ITV News that if supporting a Labour government would bring a halt to Brexit he would find his loyalties divided.

Peers cannot vote in general elections but Heseltine said he would hypothetically be “torn, because I realise the enormous damage that both these options [Labour and Brexit] represent. If there is a point at which we have to put party loyalty on one side and national interest and our own convictions on the other, then the national interest is going to win.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason Deputy political editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 27th December 2017 19.43 Europe/London

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