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Michael Heseltine: Our loyalty to our country in opposing Brexit runs far deeper than party divides

Michael Heseltine speaking at an earlier People's Vote rally. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire/PA Images - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Michael Heseltine has delivered a resounding speech at a People’s Vote rally, sharing the stage with his former political rival Margaret Beckett to say that Remainers are now the truest defenders of Britain’s national interest.

The anti-Brexit rally in Derby is one of a series being held nationwide all through the summer and autumn, with one simple message from Remainers: “Let us be heard”.

MORE: Massive summer of People’s Vote rallies planned nationwide to say: ‘Let us be heard’Lord Heseltine spoke alongside Beckett, Anna Soubry, Raisia Matadar, Lord Richard Newby and Natalie Bennett. The full written text of his speech is below:

The battle to save Britain from Brexit has divided traditional loyalties as never before. This great meeting tonight has drawn support from across the party divide.

I find in my postbag: ‘I’ve never voted for a Conservative but I agree with you on Europe’. People come up to me on trains, in the street. ‘I’m a life-long Liberal but we are on the same side.’ ‘I’ve been Labour all my life but I was with you in Parliament Square.’

As a veteran of some of the most divisive political party battles of modern times, I find it rather disconcerting. I am a member of the Conservative party. I intend to remain so.

The divisions in my party shout from today’s headlines.

As we approach the end of the second decade of the 21st century, there are millions of us, millions of British citizens, who are torn from loyalty to our party to a loyalty we feel deeper and more profoundly.

A loyalty to our country. To the United Kingdom. To the generation ahead.

As the Conservative party searches for a new prime minister amongst the tiniest microcosm of our citizens, its party membership, I despair. I have listened to debate after debate, cross examination after cross examination with growing dismay. They have been a masterclass of evasion. Assertion without evidence.

Bluster in place of answer.

Denial where the facts stare us in the face.

Millions of Conservative voters, who believe, as I do, that every Conservative prime minister since Winston Churchill 70 years ago, was right about our European destiny, are being denied a choice. It’s Brexit or Brexit. We are disenfranchised by our own party.

I would never vote for a prime minister whom I believe would make this country poorer and less powerful. There are many who feel as strongly as I do.

The pound has devalued by over 10% since the referendum. The very existence of the United Kingdom is now threatened by majorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The pound is trading below parity with the euro at the tourist gates to Europe. Speculators are openly talking of dollar parity should the end of October herald the no-deal disaster. This is now the latest threat with which to bludgeon our 27 former partners. Report after report indicates rising inflation, falling investment, lower living standards.

How many times do they have to be told?

As I drove to Derby this evening, I thought back over the years to a time when I was the minister responsible for helping to rescue Rolls Royce. With what pride do I see Rolls engines on Airbus aircraft with British wings, a world partnership of European excellence.

Airbus has warned of difficult choices.

Later, as president of the Board of Trade, I was a member of a government that welcomed Toyota to our shores as they chose Britain as their home base in the European market. How many times do Japanese companies have to warn of the consequences if we shut them off from the European market?

The papers say that a victorious Boris Johnson would fly to Paris and Berlin. Nothing demonstrates the treachery of the Brexit case more. He would visit chancellor Merkel and president Macron because they are the two national leaders powerful enough to tell the civil service in Brussels what to do.

But they won’t, of course. Any more than they would have done for David Cameron or Theresa May. They are proud of the Europe their countries have created.

They are proud of the 74 years of peace they have masterminded.

They are proud to belong to a community of parliamentary democracies.

The Communists have gone.

The Fascists in Spain and Portugal have gone.

The Colonels in Greece have gone.

Europe’s leaders have united their continent where disagreement is resolved by patient, if tedious, negotiation. They have replaced the brutal and tragic recourse to war. Who can fail to admire a modern Europe where the battles are fought with words, not swords.

Europe, now is so much more than a fusion of economic markets. It is about recognising the reality of the new world growing around us. A world of superpowers with resources beyond the reach of any European nation state.

A world of global challenges to our environment, to our defence, to our safety, intelligence services, global capitalism, pollution, terrorism and disease.

A world which demands more global cooperation and partnership – not less.

The Europeans unite to ensure they have the strength to play a central role in that world. In so resolutely opposing Brexit, I want our country to be part of that Europe. We were central to its warring past. How much more important to be central to its peaceful future? To be at the conferences? To take the decisions? To share the benefits?

It is for this reason that we are the patriots now.

We are the ones fighting for British national interest. We want to stride the corridors of Europe where decisions are made. We are the ones protecting the opportunities of tomorrow for our young generations.

That is exactly how all the other 27 members of the community feel. The Germans are no less German, the French no less French.

The Europeans are not going to risk the achievements of three quarters of a century.

They will politely but firmly tell Boris Johnson his bluster and threat may be good for British domestic newspapers. They may help detach votes from Nigel Farage. They may attract the support of a large part of the Conservative party. But in today’s polls that party attracts only a quarter of national support.

In Europe they know these threats have the strength and credibility of a hot air balloon.

There is no majority for such threats in your own parliament. They do not reflect the majority of British people.

A united Europe will repeat to Boris Johnson:

‘You want to leave our club!

‘That is your choice. Not ours.

‘That is your responsibility.

‘It is for you to defend the consequences.’

That will be their response to Boris Johnson.

Tonight, here in Derby, we send a different message.

Before you subject the British people to the economic downside of Brexit – Before you risk the integrity of the United Kingdom itself – Consult the people. Now the facts are clearer. Let the people vote.

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