There is a “consensus view” among Conservative MPs that Theresa May cannot continue as UK Prime Minister until the next planned general election in 2022, George Osborne has said.
The former chancellor attacked Mrs May’s Government’s record arguing it was “losing economic credibility” as it is hostile to business, “anti-tech” and pretending it can build the homes the country needs without easing green belt restrictions.
And he attacked the PM for a “big mistake” in telling the 48% of the country who voted Remain in the EU referendum to “shut up”, arguing she felt a backlash at June’s botched election. Mr Osborne said Mrs May would survive a vote of confidence in the House of Commons but stressed that was not the true test of the strength of her leadership
At a Westminster lunch, he said: “The essential question is going to be – is there going to be a change of leadership in this Parliament? The Conservative Party parliamentary party assumes there will be, the Prime Minister has said nothing about that. “And at some point that is going to come to a head.”
He added: “I would make the observation that it is the consensus view of the Conservative parliamentary Party that the leadership should change. “So at some point something will happen.”
Asked if he regretted his comment about wanting Mrs May “chopped up in bags in my freezer”, which he has already apologised for, the Evening Standard editor replied: “It’s taught me a few things about editorial conference meetings.” Mr Osborne made pointed remarks which appeared to be aimed at the May Government, which took over from the administration he helped David Cameron run.
He said: “If you as a party set yourselves against the future, if we’re hostile to business, if we think they are the problem not the solution, if the Cabinet game becomes who can get the most money out of the chancellor, if we’re anti-tech, if we talk about building homes but pretend they can only be built on brownfields, then we will lose our economic credibility and cause damage to our country’s economic future.”
He said Mrs May’s approach to Brexit had cost the Tories votes at June’s election. Mr Osborne added: “I’m hugely impressed that the Conservative leadership won in Stoke and Mansfield and Middlesbrough which did not happen when I was in charge of general elections, but we lost in Bath and in Bristol and in Reading and in Brighton, and indeed in the home constituency of the Evening Standard, Kensington.
“You’ve got to be able to try and hold both and if you say to 48% of the country, decision over, we don’t want to hear from you again, 48% of the country will make their voice heard.” Mr Osborne said he was “hopeful” that “long before we get to the general election” the Government will advocate a “softer” form of Brexit.
“I used to be a bit of an amateur chief whip, and I don’t think they’ve got the votes (for a hard Brexit),” he said. He said he found it “amusing” that Brexiteers who took part in the “rebellious” Vote Leave campaign which beat Remain’s “undynamic” broad mainstream coalition have now become the Establishment and “don’t like it up ’em”.
Discussing his role in the Remain campaign, he said: “I’ve fought several general elections, some more successfully than others, and you can just tell when the campaign’s going our way and when it’s not.
“And it was clearly, I could tell it was not going our way.
“I think what’s quite interesting at the moment, and dare I say amusing, is that the rebels have become the Establishment and ’don’t really like it up ’em’.”He said one of his biggest regrets from his time in Government was failing to spell out the benefits of immigration.
Former PM Mr Cameron committed to getting net migration down to the “tens of thousands” during their time in office, a pledge which still stands and remains unfulfilled. Mr Osborne did not rule out a return to the House of Commons but insisted he was enjoying his current role.
“It’s so nice to be back,” he joked. “I don’t rule it out just because I think you can be foolish saying never to things, but it is certainly not what I think I’m going to be doing with my life in the future.
“I am very much enjoying editing the paper and for me aged 46, having had 20 years in politics, I’ve discovered a new career and a new life and I’m quite enjoying it.”