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Heseltine warns Brexit fears will drive firms to Europe

Former deputy prime minister says Theresa May has failed to set out a detailed plan for leaving the EU.

Theresa May’s failure to set out a detailed plan for Brexit threatens to drive companies to leave Britain for Europe, former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine has warned.

The Tory grandee dismissed the Prime Minister’s Mansion House speech on Friday, saying it offered “the wrong answers at the wrong time for the wrong reasons”.

Speaking at Mansfield College, Oxford, he said the lack of clarity as to how she would achieve a deal with Brussels would do nothing to reassure businesses considering whether to invest in the UK.

He said  the Prime Minister had been effectively “imprisoned” by a “hard core” of Tory Brexiteers threatening to force her out unless she accepted their demands.

The speech sets out the wrong answers at the wrong time for the wrong reasons Lord Heseltine

“Phrases, generalisation, platitudes are not enough. That is why the answers are wrong because they give no clarity about what the Government actually wants detail by detail,” he said.

“The timing is wrong because companies are in the process of making investment decisions and this absence of detail will persuade them to delay investment here or move it to Europe.

“The reasons are wrong because in reality the Prime Minister is imprisoned by a hard core of her backbenchers threatening to call for her resignation if she deviates by the smallest margin from their prejudice towards Europe.”

Lord Heseltine is the latest senior figure to weigh in to the Brexit debate after former prime ministers Sir John Major and Tony Blair delivered speeches earlier this week warning of the damage leaving would cause.

The Prime Minister is imprisoned by a hard core of her backbenchers threatening to call for her resignation if she deviates by the smallest margin from their prejudice towards Europe Lord Heseltine

He said Britain had already suffered a “significant devaluation” in sterling as a result of the referendum vote while the economy had been converted from Europe’s fastest growing to its slowest.

The “whole chaotic tragedy” of Brexit was symbolised by the problems they now faced in preventing the return of a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic, he said.

He poured scorn on Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s suggestion it could be monitored in the same way as the boundary between Camden and Islington in the London congestion charging zone, saying he had made Britain a “laughing stock across the world”.

“He appeared oblivious of the fact that CCTV monitoring the outside of lorries and cars cannot detect illegal contents, drugs, weapons or terrorists themselves,” he said.

After Mrs May warned that no British prime minister could sign up to the EU’s proposal to keep Northern Ireland in a common regulatory area with the EU – imposing a “border in the Irish Sea” – Lord Heseltine said none of her predecessors would have agreed to the deal she was seeking.

“She should remember that no PM in modern times would have contemplated the sort of European relationship in which she herself didn’t believe but is now being forced to pursue,” he said.

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