Mrs May wants Brexit to be the offer you can’t discuss

PUBLISHED: 09:40 10 March 2017 | UPDATED: 05:23 13 March 2017

Member of the House of Lords, Conservative Lord Michael Heseltine leaves 10 Downing Street, London.

Member of the House of Lords, Conservative Lord Michael Heseltine leaves 10 Downing Street, London.

PA Archive/PA Images

“I had to do what I believed in,” said Lord Heseltine

The mean spirited, callous nature of British politics hit a new low this week when Michael Heseltine, a man respected as hard-working and sincere by even his political foes, was summoned from dinner with his wife to be fired by an autocratic control-freak of a prime minister, demonstrably unwilling to truck dissent from anyone over Brexit.

The peer, too much of a class act to openly criticise the government, nonetheless stuck to his guns in an exclusive interview with The New European: “I was not happy to vote against the party – of course not. I have done it only three times prior to this. It brought me no pleasure. Not one bit,” he said.

“I knew if I voted this way that I could be sacked. But I had to do what I believed in. Soon after the vote I was told that I would lose my advisory roles which I had very much enjoyed doing. But I don’t want to get into the minutiae of why it happened or what I think of the individuals involved. It was their decision, they were well within their rights and I accept it fully.”

But we can express dismay at how shabbily the government treats those with conviction. Heseltine is just the latest casualty of Theresa May’s control freakery, her intolerance of any who offer her anything other than unwavering support. And the sacking of such a senior, respected figure is calculated to send out a clear message to others. Here was a warning straight from The Godfather Vito Corleone’s playbook: “Don’t ever take sides with against the family.”

Sir John Major has disrespected her and her unyielding approach with his recent words of caution. But the former prime minister, who swiftly retreated from public debate after his comments, is untouchable. Not so, Heseltine, who, for the past six years has offered the insights of his years of experience at no cost on numerous issues.

If such a respected figure can be treated by May in this way, then the implications for younger Conservative politicians, who might disagree with the Prime Minister – but who still have their careers ahead of them – is chillingly clear.

Yet, the control May seeks is an illusion. The cracks are there not far from the surface. As Alastair Campbell explains in this newspaper today, those of us who know Brexit will be a disaster, should take heart from Heseltine. There are signs that a move in public opinion on Brexit will be swift and decisive – which is why it is so important that our MPs to have a “meaningful” say on the issue.

Lord Heseltine has always been his own man. Next week we will find out if any Tory MPs have developed a clearer sense of what it is to be a conviction politician.

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