Former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine has told Theresa May he does not believe it was necessary for her to sack him from his advisory roles for rebelling over Brexit.
Earlier this month, the Europhile Tory peer was stripped of his unpaid work, which included advising the Government on industrial regeneration, after backing a House of Lords amendment which would have forced Mrs May to offer MPs a meaningful vote on the EU withdrawal deal she agrees with Brussels.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, Lord Heseltine said Mrs May had “every right” to dismiss him, but suggested that he should have been given the same leeway to dissent from the party line on Europe as was granted to Tory ministers during the EU referendum.
Replying to a March 13 letter in which Mrs May explained the reasons for his sacking, Lord Heseltine wrote: “You say in your letter that I will understand the necessity to end that relationship. Here we disagree.
“In the referendum campaign it was recognised that so deeply held and so divided were the views on both sides that members of the Cabinet and other ministers were free to argue and vote against the Government's European policy without sanction.”
Lord Heseltine pointedly noted that Mrs May herself had backed Remain in the 2016 referendum, declaring in a speech that it was “clearly in our national interest to remain a member of the European Union”.
“I have repeatedly said you have every right to end my relationship with the Government,” he wrote.
“The simple fact remains that you have changed your mind since the excellent speech you made in the referendum campaign arguing that we should remain in the European Union. I have not.”
Lord Heseltine said that his vote for the House of Lords amendment - which was later overturned by the Commons - could not have delayed or denied Mrs May's ability to trigger withdrawal talks under Article 50 of the EU treaties.
After Downing Street indicated that Mrs May will wait as long as two weeks after the passage of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act before triggering Article 50, Lord Heseltine said: “The urgency about which we heard so much at the time seems in the event somewhat diminished.”
He said his rebel vote was designed “to give the House of Commons a second chance to enshrine in law a commitment you yourself had already given to allow Parliament a vote on any Brexit deal”.