Lord Heseltine has said that “if Boris goes, Brexit goes”, urging the next Conservative Party leader to renew ties with Brussels.
Lord Heseltine also warned that “extreme anti-Europeanism and Right-wingism” would be a “suicide course” for the Tories.
“I’m absolutely clear that we need a deputy prime minister to act in the interregnum before a new prime minister is chosen,” Lord Heseltine told Sky News.
“It’s quite obvious that Boris Johnson, if he were allowed to stay, is going to try to procure a range of policies that will bolster his position. So that’s unthinkable.
“The critical thing here is that Boris is associated with one major policy, and that is Brexit. I coined the phrase: ‘If Boris goes, Brexit goes.’
“To me, the big and interesting dilemma is the way in which Keir Starmer has been wrong-footed in making these anti-European speeches, as he has on the basis that he was going to fight Boris Johnson.
“Now, of course, the Tory party is going to have to find a new leader. My belief is that there will be a return to sanity towards our policies about Europe which will make Keir Starmer look, I think, rather foolish.”
Lord Heseltine said a new leader must be appointed very soon to prevent Mr Johnson “manoeuvring and manipulating power in the dying days of his premiership”.
He said he did not think the next prime minister would try to take Britain back into the EU, but would instead seek to establish “a more positive relationship with Europe”.
If they did not, he said the Conservatives risked losing seats to the Liberal Democrats, who want to rejoin the EU.
Public opinion is that Brexit was a “disaster”, he said, adding: “Extreme anti-Europeanism and Right-wingism is a suicide course for the Tory Party in the context of the economic circumstances we are facing.”
He said Mr Johnson had been “a disastrous prime minister in the conduct of the nation's affairs” and has “trashed” the reputation of Britain and the Conservative Party.
“I think his colleagues should have acted more decisively and earlier,” he added.