Lord Heseltine has called for a second referendum on UK membership of the EU, as Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal was defeated in the House of Commons.
The Tory peer, who has been outspoken in his opposition to Brexit, was talking to Accountancy Age ahead of our 50th anniversary. The chairman of Haymarket created Accountancy Age before selling the publication on in 1980.
But he did not miss the chance to criticise Brexit, revealing his personal reasons for opposing it.
“I believe Brexit is a disaster for this country; for its influence, its position in the world, and for its economic prospects,” Lord Heseltine said.
“We had the referendum, and it looked as though that might be the final decision, but in practice, it hasn’t worked out that way, and there’s now a very divided House of Commons which could lead to a return to a second referendum.
Lord Heseltine said his memories of being bombed in Swansea during the Second World War influenced his view. He remembers seeing his Scotty dog waiting at the door of the bomb shelter every single night at 9pm, because that is when the bombs came.
The European project is as much about preserving peace following that war as facilitating trade, he said.
“I was there, in the Second World War. I lived through the formulation of the European movement and its purposes, and Britain’s initial rejection, and ultimate accession.
“I’ve been part of it all, I’ve met the people, played a role, voted, I know what it’s all about and I can see the benefits of it. And I can see the poverty of the alternatives to it.
“So if I don’t speak, who should? Who will?” he said.
Lord Heseltine’s own career, both in business and in politics, has been marked by bold risk-taking moves and resilience.
At one time, the publishing company he had started was facing the prospects of bankruptcy, but Haymarket boasted increased profits in its results announced this month, and revenues of almost £175m.
Many will remember the politician for his leadership challenge to Margaret Thatcher in 1990. Although unsuccessful, it ultimately triggered her downfall.
Lord Heseltine is no more sparing towards the politicians who have actively campaigned for Brexit than he was to the Iron Lady.
When asked how Theresa May has handled the negotiations so far, he saved his criticisms for the Brexiteers.
“I was very keen on the decision she made to put the Brexiteers in charge of negotiations,” Lord Heseltine said. “Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox were all Brexiteers, they’ve been in charge, and let’s be frank, they’ve screwed it up.”
He said her decision to then pass the problem to civil servants to attempt to resolve was “what every Prime Minister in the circumstances would have done.”
For those who are waiting to find out what happens come March 29 before making important business decisions, Lord Heseltine was not as gloomy as some commentators have been.
He does not believe that a no-deal Brexit will go ahead as he believes the House of Commons would not allow it.
“The world will go on,” he said, of a post-Brexit Britain. “The sun will come up. Britain’s not going to disappear under the English Channel. It’s just we will be less important, less prosperous, outside the European Union than inside it.
“And it’s that concept: that we should volunteer to make ourselves less important on the world stage and that we should deprive a young generation of the opportunities that my generation have had, to play a role within the continent of Europe. I find that all quite unacceptable.”
Look out for a full interview with Lord Heseltine later this year in conjunction with Accountancy Age’s 50th anniversary celebrations.