Mark Francois traded barbs with Isabel Hilton during a heated debated on the future of the Brexit process at the Hay-on-Wye Philosophy Festival earlier this week. The European Research Group (ERG) deputy chair attempted to answer a question on his stance on a second vote on leaving the European Union when Ms Hilton attempted to interrupt him. Mr Francois insisted the leaflet the British Government released in the run-up to the Brexit poll in 2016 had made it clear the referendum was a “once in a generation” occasion when Ms Hilton intervened: “Oh, the holy text – ok, we’ve had that one. We have heard that one, you said that.”
As Mr Francois persisted in his attempt to answer the question, Ms Hilton could be heard asking panellist Leanne Woods to “grab that microphone” from the Brexiteer.
But the Rayleigh and Wickford MP hit back: “Madam Chairman, with respect, we are supposed to heckle each other – you are not supposed to heckle us.
“I think the people of this country are perfectly intelligent and capable of taking a big decision.”
Mr Francois also predicted the UK will ultimately quit the European Union by October 31, the date Theresa May agreed to with the European Union when she requested a further extension of the deadline in April.
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He continued: “I think it’s now even more likely that we will leave the European Union on October 31, 2019. That is now the legal default position.
“But I don’t think that we want to go to no deal as the desired end state. The desired state that we want is a comprehensive free trade agreement with our European partners which would allow us to trade with the with either low or no tariffs to our mutual economic advantage into the foreseeable future.
“There is already such an agreement between the EU and Canada which was signed in 2016 so there is a strong precedent which the EU have accepted by virtue of the fact they’ve signed it.
“What we would do is take that agreement as a template, modify it and we would go forward with that.”
Theresa May witnessed attempts to have the Commons accept her proposed withdrawal agreement rejected three times. Earlier this month, the Prime Minister suggested she would put her deal to the vote yet again in June but was forced to renounce amid growing opposition from her MPs.
Mrs May last week announced plans to resign on June 7 ahead of what proved to be a disastrous European election for her party, during which Tories crumbled in fifth place in the poll and secured only 4 seats in the European Parliament.
Her decision to quit spurred 12 Tory MPs to throw their hats into the ring to succeed her at Number 10.
Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has emerged as the bookies’ favourite since he launched his bid to become Prime Minister and secured the support of prominent Brexiteers, including ERG chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The Tory MP for North East Somerset said Boris Johnson is “overwhelmingly the best option” to replace her.
He also claimed Mr Johnson is the only person who can get the Conservatives back on a positive footing, calling him the “charismatic leader who managed to win in London against all the odds”.
Mr Rees-Mogg added: “He’s someone who can deliver on policies, win in Labour areas and is committed to Brexit.”