Lord Michael Heseltine's Brexit message to Bishop's Stortford High School sixth-formers
A giant of the late 20th-century political arena told Bishop's Stortford students that if the UK left the European Union their generation would reverse the decision.
Conservative grandee Lord Michael Heseltine's visit to The Bishop's Stortford High School on Tuesday (Nov 19) saw him address a small group of Year 13 politics students and make clear his aversion to Brexit and those who campaigned for it.
The 86-year-old former Deputy Prime Minister spoke to the group before delivering a lecture to the school's sixth form in which he gave some concise advice over choosing a career – "do something you enjoy" – and outlined some of the details about his life in politics.
Starting his career as a property developer before becoming one of the founders of publishing house Haymarket, Swansea-born Lord Heseltine was an MP for 35 years, initially for Tavistock in Devon (1966-74) and then Henley in Oxfordshire (1974-2001).
He was a minister under three Conservative PMs: Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major. He served as Environment Secretary and Defence Secretary under Thatcher, whom he challenged for leadership of the party in late 1990. After her subsequent resignation, Heseltine lost to Major.
As a key ally of Major, he served as Environment Secretary again, then Trade and Industry Secretary and finally Deputy PM. He declined to seek leadership of the party following Major's 1997 election defeat.
During the discussion with the politics students, Lord Heseltine was asked about the "most challenging Prime Minister" he had worked with, revealing Heath was "an effective PM, but not an easy man".
He added that one had to understand Thatcher. "Margaret had a very fast reaction point," he said. "It was from the gut, it was instinctive."
He said that sometimes she needed to be confronted, something he found difficult. "I'm a middle-class boy, brought up in a middle-class world, so to confront the female PM was counter-intuitive."
Lord Heseltine, who had the Conservative whip taken away from him earlier this year for saying he would vote Liberal Democrat in June's European Parliament election, said that hostility towards the EU began after Mrs Thatcher agreed to the Single European Act in 1987.
He said that it had meant challenges for businesses which they were not happy about, and he criticised Mrs Thatcher for her reaction to that. "Instead of Margaret standing up and saying 'We've got to get through it', she played the anti-European card."
When he was asked whether there was any reason not to back Boris Johnson's Brexit deal he said that it was wrong to "step outside of the EU" and he criticised Nigel Farage and the national press, which largely back the UK's exit.
"I will not have anything to do with those people," he said. "On this issue I will not compromise."
He said that the result of the December 12 General Election was unpredictable, but told the gathered students: "If we do leave the European Union, this generation will take us back in."
Other questions saw Lord Heseltine brush aside one about votes for 16-year-olds and having the whip removed – "Who cares!"
He called Jeremy Corbyn "mad", adding that although he was sincere in what he believed, what he believed in made him unelectable. "There's no way Jeremy Corbyn will form a majority Government," he added.
Questions from the sixth-formers included what Britain could do to help the Hong Kong protesters, whether Mrs Thatcher's Government was responsible for the housing crisis and if he supported a second referendum.
In response to the latter question he said: "There's no doubt at all that there should be a second referendum. The first one was shrouded in deception. We have already suffered – the economy is in reduced status."
He ended with a positive message for the audience when asked if he was hopeful for the students' generation.
"There's never been such opportunities, never been such wealth. The world is your oyster."