Lord Michael Heseltine Discusses Brexit at Leeds Rally - European Movement
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Lord Heseltine Discusses What’s Next for Brexit at Leeds Rally

"In exercising a judgement about Europe we have to decide what sort of people we are, what role we believe our country should play, what inheritance we should pass on."

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Lord Michael Heseltine spoke about Brexit at a Leeds for Europe Rally on September 7th 2019. Read the transcript of Heseltine's speech here:


"None of us have lived through a time of such political unpredictability in peacetime Britain. There are no precedents.

Indeed if a few months ago anyone had forecast events of the past few weeks they would have been greeted with incredulity. One thing, however, has not changed.

Our country is divided as never before.

The very concept of a United Kingdom is now threatened. Every family, every community, every political party argue, debate and fracture. People criticise Parliament for indecision. The stark fact is that Parliament is doing its job. It reflects what is happening across the country.

There is no agreement in Parliament because there is no agreement in the country at large. Theresa May could find no way to unite the country. Boris Johnson inherited the problem.

One thing, however, has changed.

The essence of Mrs May’s approach was one of reason, of persuasion. She began by handing the three most relevant offices of state to hardline committed Brexiteers Boris Johnson, David Davies, and Liam Fox. They held their jobs long enough to become familiar with all the arguments, explore all the solutions, consult across the four corners of the globe. Two of them left and have offered no credible way forward. Boris sacked the only survivor of the three.

Theresa May’s departure led to a leadership battle in which the old familiar vision of a glorious new era of world leadership freed of Europe’s chains was dangled tantalisingly before the wafer-thin electorate of elderly, white members of the Conservative Party.

I said one thing had changed.

A ruthlessness has been injected into the conduct of affairs. A Cabinet reshuffled to exclude debate.

Employees in Downing Street marched to the door under police escort having been sacked without any semblance of proper procedure. Parliament prorogued to stop it exercising its constitutional responsibilities to hold the government to account. Europe threatened with the calamity of no deal.

The Conservative Party mobilised to fight a bitter and divisive election. 21 members of the government sacked for behaving under his government as Boris Johnson and his colleagues behaved under Mrs May’s.

The pattern of events is not a jumble of historic coincidence. This pattern is deliberately planned and contrived to force a future on the British people for which there is no mandate.

The responsibility lies without equivocation at the feet of Mr Johnson and the political zealots he has entrusted with the keys of No 10 Downing Street. Any observer with the faintest political interest could have seen the warnings.

Speech after speech, photo opportunity after photo opportunity. The police, the Health Service, Education.  I have never seen our public services so manipulated for the narrowest of political purpose. I have never seen such superficiality injected into the vital services these organisations provide.

It is nearly fifty years since I walked the streets of Liverpool after the Toxteth riots.  Of course, we rightly backed the police in their lonely and essential responsibility to uphold the rule of law.  But the police did not cause the riots. The riots were the consequence of the deep social tensions that existed and lack of any effective local leadership to cope with them.

Society is rightly concerned about the rise of knife crime. It is irresponsible to believe you will tackle the social circumstances that attract young people to buy those horrendous weapons by exposing ever more policemen and women to the dangers that will face them. It may appeal in a general election particularly to a section of the electorate that lives nowhere near inner city Britain, but it is no substitute for a genuine policy of reform.

We should be concerned about the standards in parts of our education system. The present funding arrangements deliver excellence and high standards in every type of community, every part of our country. Allocating more money has a popular appeal but it ignores the real issue. Too many of our schools and training facilities are simply not good enough. We tolerate standards that are too low. Everyone knows where those schools are. Too little is done to secure improvement.

This week’s review of public expenditure is a classic example of an electioneering government. No attempt to set a sense of direction, to prioritise an agenda, to secure long-term reform. Simply more money financed by more borrowing on economic forecasts that are seriously out of date more for everyone. Lollipops all round.

All this against a background of an economy poised on the verge of recession.

A currency seriously devalued. Manufacturing, construction and service industry optimism at depressing levels.

And yet the same Brexit delusions are ever more loudly proclaimed.

It will take years to establish exactly the terms on which our companies will trade with Europe. That uncertainty affects nearly half our overseas trade. The loss is incalculable but the fear of it is already at work in investment levels and job security.

The government puts its faith in Mr Trump. There is no certainty he will even be President to preside over any deal.  But even if he is, Congress will certainly be there. The only deal Congress will pass is an American first deal. I make no complaint. That is reality. Line by line, comma by comma the most pork barrel system on earth will fight for American jobs, companies and self-interest.

So it will be with every other deal.

Whilst Europe will renegotiate its new deals with economic muscle of 450 million consumers and investors behind them, we will have diminished our bargaining strength in an act of self-imposed weakness.

India will open her trade talks with discussions about immigration policy.

China will ask our views on its treatment of Hong Kong.

Everyone everywhere will offer great deals. Great deals to their benefit at our expense.

The next delusion is wrapped up in the promotion of deregulation. From the White Cliffs of Dover to the most remote of Scottish Isles our new freedoms to govern ourselves will be enflamed in bonfires of controls. So they say.

How liberating it will all be. So they say.

How energising will be the wind in our sails. So they say.

But how curious the silence when one asks what rules will change, what regulations obliterated, what doors thrust open?

Boris Johnson told the DUP Conference that Europe controls noisy lawnmowers.  What paradise on a Sunday morning has he in mind as suburban Britain is noise polluted by some invasion of cheap noisy machines in housing estate after housing estate.

Their refusal to answer the question is understandable. They know that civilisation is built on regulation. Without it there will always be someone who will sell a more dangerous, more toxic, more polluting product.

There will be landlords who exploit, racialists who prejudice, criminals who exploit. I know because I can remember why those regulations exist. I also know some of the people most strident in their clamour to get rid of them!

Be very careful what you vote for. Freedom for the few can very easily become the very opposite for the many.

In the end the debate about a place in Europe must transcend the day to day detail of everyday life. Of course, that is important, but in exercising judgement about Europe we have to decide what sort of people we are, what role we believe our country should play, what inheritance we should pass on.

I lived through the Second World War.

I shared the aspirations of a new generation that it must never happen again.  As Churchill put it Jaw Jaw not War War. Three times in three-quarters of a century Europe had been convulsed in bloodshed and conflict.

I witnessed the end of an empire and the huge complement to Britain’s imperial past – the emergence of Commonwealth. 

I shared the vision of every Conservative Prime Minister of modern times that our new destiny demanded our place at the heart of the emerging Europe.

Let no one misunderstand the nature and reality of that Europe.

It is a coming together of 28 sovereign democracies who have agreed to share some sovereignty in order to add the essential ingredient of power to give meaning to that sovereignty.

No German feels less German, no Frenchman less French.

No national of any of the membership feels any less loyal to their allegiance to their flag or Parliament.

The simple reality is amply demonstrated by Boris Johnson’s visits to Berlin and Paris. Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are the powerbrokers of modern Europe. I believe we must share in that configuration of reality in a modern world not eradicate ourselves from it.

28 parliamentary democracies working in concert.

The Colonels have gone from Greece, the Fascists from Spain and Portugal.  The Communists a pale shadow of the significance they achieved in post war France and Italy.  A thousand years and more of conflict resolved on long forgotten battlefields about issues no one can remember replaced in tedious, protracted but infinitely preferential debate and compromise.  That is the essence of the miracle of modern Europe.

We cannot escape that reality. We cannot build an alternative world.

A world that in just over a century has replaced human communication by foot, horse or rail into an across the world real time flow of information.

A world where giant economies feed their industries with the funds to exploit every more technological advance.

A world where terrorism is instant, international and ever present.

A world where giant companies shelter their earnings in tax havens thus avoiding taxes in the economies where those earnings arise. 

A world where threats to life on the planet itself are now real and growing.

In such a world with all the challenges involved and the economic frustrations created the rise of populism and nationalism is evident.

The economic crash of 2008 fuelled resentment across the western world as living standards froze.

If ever there was a need for political leadership in this country, that time is now.  Leadership that values the structure of cooperation and interdependence that emerged after the Second World War.

A structure that created for us a unique role in the three pillars of our world. Head of Commonwealth, a close friend of the United States of America and a leading member of the modern Europe.

We did not achieve this by divine intervention or by luck. It is the consequence of generation after generation of skilled and enlightened British statesmen and women who crafted for us a leading role on the world stage.

We must strive with all the resource at our command to prevent its destruction in one cataclysmic act of folly by a government oblivious to our past and indifferent to our future."


- Lord Michael Heseltine


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