The European question has now despatched yet another Conservative Prime Minister. Theresa May’s departure was driven by right-wing Tory MPs who would only accept the most extreme form of Brexit and her own decision to put Conservative Party unity ahead of everything else. The task of delivering a Brexit deal to match the far-fetched promises of the 2016 ‘leave’ referendum campaign will be no simpler if the Tory membership decide to install Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab in Number 10. The details of Brexit aren’t in the hands of the Prime Minister – they have to clear both the UK Parliament, the EU Parliament and the 27 other European Union heads of government. This fact appears lost on some of the Brexiteers who defenestrated Theresa May this week.
Is there a prospect that a more conciliatory Tory leader might emerge? Not very likely, given the political views of the selectorate. When Theresa May tried to appease her Tory right-wingers with ‘red lines’ ruling out a Single Market and customs union, she pulled the rug from beneath any chance of parliamentary compromise. The likely poor performance of the Conservative and Labour parties in the European elections ought to be a wake-up call for both to change position. Instead I fear they will pander to the Nigel Farage point of view, a decision that will in future hurt jobs and livelihoods, potentially as soon as the end of 2019 if we do indeed crash out with ‘no deal’ under a different Prime Minister.
As the multitude of Conservative MPs jostle for a hearing in the contest for Conservative leader, we should all insist that the country’s best interests are not put on hold while we waste precious months on the internal wrangle in the Tory Party. I want to see future leaders competing for the attention of the public at large, not just for the affections of their hardline activists. I continue to believe British politics is in a sorry and broken state, and will keep trying to do what I can to fix it from the mainstream centre ground.