EXCL George Osborne: Theresa May’s future dominates conversations with Cabinet ministers
The Conservatives must "confront" the question of Theresa May’s leadership if they are to stand any chance of winning back the political initiative, George Osborne has warned.
The former Chancellor said the future of the Prime Minister dominates his conversations with Cabinet ministers and the party must not shy away from its "very serious challenges".
Speaking at an event in London hosted by The Spectator magazine, Mr Osborne - who has been a staunch critic of Mrs May since being sacked by her last summer - said that “closing your eyes and hoping it will all go away” while pretending the party remain unified “does not work in politics”.
Speculation about Mrs May's future has been prominent in Conservative circles since the party's disastrous election result, and former chairman Grant Shapps even mounted a coup attempt last week.
When asked whether the party should get behind Mrs May in order to keep the Brexit process on track, Mr Osborne said: "I don’t think you do a service to the party that I'm a member of and I’ve been a member of for 25 years of my life, working for and promoting, by pretending there aren’t some very serious challenges that the Government faces and the leadership faces."
He added: “You’ve got to have a clear plan and attempt to lead in pursuit of that plan and that is what the Conservative government needs to do.
"It’s no good the Conservatives saying 'well I wish we would stop talking about it' – you can’t talk to a member of the Cabinet without talking about it and so we’ve got to confront that."
Mr Osborne said he had decided to quit as an MP and become editor of the Evening Standard because the Conservatives had "moved away" from the positions they previously championed and he believed in.
He said: "The question for me for at the age of 46 is do I go on staying in the political system fighting for these things, when frankly my party has moved away from the positions that I think are most likely to succeed or do I try something new in life, that it turns out that editing a newspaper is both challenging and fun."
In reflecting on his time in the Cabinet, Mr Osborne conceded the party did not do enough to promote the stance he believes kept the Conservatives attractive to voters.
“If I had a regret it’s not that we didn’t manage the immigration system properly, it’s that we were I think too intimidated to make the arguments about the benefits of immigration and Conservatives usually win when we’re positive about our country’s future,” he added.
“But if Conservatives behave like the old man at the park, ‘the whole country’s gone to the dogs, we were much better in the past’, the electorate turn around and say: ‘your best days are behind you'.”
Mr Osborne, a staunch supporter of remaining in the European Union, said he did not believe Britain would reverse its decision on Brexit, but that European countries would likely welcome such a move.
“If the British government wanted to withdraw its application to join the EU I think it would be accepted across Europe,” he added.
“My guess is it would be accepted by other European countries. Do I think that’s going to happen? No. I’m someone who although I very much wanted Britain to remain in the EU and I was concerned about the consequences of if we left, I don’t think now we can stop leaving the EU. I think we’re going to leave in the spring in 2019.