Conservative MPs urged Theresa May to sack Michael Heseltine as a government adviser after the former deputy prime minister put himself at the head of the Lords rebellion over Brexit.
Lord Heseltine said that he would rebel against his party for only the third time in a 50-year career with a heavy heart but that it was vital that parliament should have a meaningful vote on the final deal Mrs May negotiated with the rest of the EU.
The prime minister has promised to allow MPs and peers a say before the deal is put to the European parliament but so far that commitment is not enshrined in the bill authorising the start of formal exit talks. The legislation reaches the Lords today, with peers set to debate and potentially vote on a selection of amendments.
Lord Heseltine, 83, said that he wanted to make sure that the Commons could “exercise its authority over the defining issue of our time”. He wrote in The Mail on Sunday: “The fightback starts here. My opponents will argue that the people have spoken, the [Brexit] mandate secured and the future cast. My experience stands against this argument.”
Cabinet ministers lined up yesterday to urge peers not to try to amend the bill and Conservative MPs called for Lord Heseltine to be sacked from his role on the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).
Sir Patrick McLoughlin, the Conservative Party chairman, said that Mrs May had already promised to put the deal to a vote and that he hoped to avoid a fight with the Lords. “The prime minister has said that there will be a vote once the negotiations are concluded,” he said. “The prime minister won’t conclude the negotiations if she thinks she’s got a bad deal.”
He added: “The bill should go through as it has come from the House of Commons, the elected House of Commons. We can’t now start second-guessing the referendum. We’ve got to give the prime minister as much flexibility in the negotiations over those next two years.”
Amber Rudd, the home secretary, said there was no possibility of the government accepting changes to the bill. “And I don’t think there should be,” she told Peston on Sunday on ITV.
Michael Fabricant, the Conservative MP for Lichfield, urged the government to consider removing the peer from his role on the infrastructure watchdog. “Michael Heseltine is a serial killer of Eurosceptic legislation so no one should be surprised by his latest disloyalty,” he said.
Andrew Bridgen, the MP for North West Leicestershire, told The Daily Telegraph: “It is difficult to see how he can stay on as an adviser to a secretary of state when he is leading a rebellion against government policy.”
Mrs May’s aides dismissed the call to sack him from the NIC, saying that it had been led by a Labour peer, Lord Adonis, who was under no obligation to vote with the government.
Richard Tice, co-chairman of Leave Means Leave, said: “It is of little surprise that Lord Heseltine — who has historically put the interests of the European Union ahead of those of Britain — will try to sabotage Article 50. His attempt to weaken the position of the prime minister ahead of negotiations with the EU is a truly unpatriotic act.”
February 27th, 2017: Times