Refusal to mention EU makes this election most dishonest in modern times, warns Heseltine

Lord Heseltine has warned that the 2024 general election campaign “will be the most dishonest in modern times” because of the refusal of the main parties to debate the consequences of Brexit.

The former deputy prime minister who fell out with the Conservatives over leaving the European Union, has written exclusively for The Independent explaining how the big issues in this general election – the economy, immigration and defence – all need to be debated in the context of the UK’s relationship with the EU.

But he claimed that Labour and the Tories are too scared to discuss Brexit because of the potential impact on their voter bases.

He wrote: “Both major parties are afraid of losing votes to the hard right. Labour needs to rebuild its Red Wall while the Conservatives run scared of Reform.”

However, he noted that almost no major issue can be discussed without reference to an issue which has in effect dominated British politics since the EU referendum in 2016 and arguably since the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 which shattered John Major’s government.

“The state of our economy, defence and environment, the need to level up our society, control immigration and restore Britain’s standing in the world. None of these issues can be honestly addressed in isolation from our relationship with Europe. Yet Europe is the no go area.”

Highlighting immigration, which is seen as a top three issue by pollsters in the campaign, he questioned how there can be a serious debate without discussing Europe.

“Why cannot the two major parties debate immigration in the round. The boats contain just 5 percent of those who might or might not be sent to Rwanda. They are a small part of the near 700,000 net immigration figure – the real elephant in the room.

“Until we consider the consequences for our farms, care homes, hospitals and universities of culling the numbers, all the talk of change, the constant assertion of ‘plans’ amount to little more than platitudes blowing in the wind. Whatever we decide to do, we need to work more closely with our neighbours in Europe, who share our experiences.”

On defence he warned that the impending election of Donald Trump in the US means that Britain can no longer rely on Nato for its security needs with a more isolationist policy in Washington DC.

He asked: “What if the Republican Party reverts to its position in 1940 when it pressed President Roosevelt to promise not to enter the war. He kept that promise until Hitler declared war on America in 1941. Nightmare though that would be is such a possibility being seriously addressed?”

His solution: “We should be discussing a closer defence relationship with Europe. Platitudes don’t have much firepower.”

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