The British people have voted to leave the EU, and today Conservative MPs began the process of whittling five Prime Ministerial candidates down to two, which will then be decided in a vote by the entire party membership. This PM will lead our great country out of Europe – it’s a task that nobody has ever done before and above all it will require a top team, taking talent from across the party and facing the task with optimism. When David Cameron became leader of the opposition, there was time to get the hang of it; the Conservative leader we now choose will immediately have their finger on the nuclear button and be responsible for our economic and national security. Now cannot be the time for a novice at the very top of a great global power.
Prior to the process, I consulted local Conservatives and the wider public via email and social media. It’s an approach that can’t be validated; I’m keenly aware a number of people who assured me before the election they were definitely not voting for me wrote in over the last few days to assure me they definitely had and that I should vote for a specific candidate. In such an open process not everybody who gets in touch will have the best interests of the Conservative Party or even the national interest at heart, but I honestly believe it is right to consult all constituents.
Among Conservative Party members locally, the overwhelming majority backed Theresa May, with all the other candidates around similar levels. Among the broader public, an equal number supported Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom, with Michael Gove and Liam Fox in roughly equal third. The results from today’s first round of voting have largely mirrored this, although Dr Fox is now out of the running having come last.
I’ve been lucky enough to serve on the Energy Bill with Andrea, who is an Energy Minister, and to work closely with the Home Secretary on the challenges around crime, street drinking and immigration, as well as on the Investigatory Powers Bill, regulating our secret services. It was with an open mind that I went to the 1922 Hustings yesterday.
While various accounts of the hustings have widely been leaked to the media, they remain private meetings. Over the course of the sessions with each candidate, it became clear to me that it is very clearly in the national interest to take the view expressed by former leadership contender David Davies, and set aside whether a candidate was a Brexiteer or a remainer; one might argue a Brexiter has more conviction in renegotiations or that a remainer has more to prove. I think we simply need the best team and the best negotiator in charge, not least because we are all Brexiters now.
When we invoke Article 50 should happen at the optimal moment for the national interest, whether that means this week or later this year.
There isn’t a single leadership candidate I wouldn’t expect to see around the cabinet table, but leading Britain requires experience, judgment, calmness and tenacity. All these are why Theresa May has attracted so much support from across the Conservative Party; after lengthy conversations with her over the last few days, today I was delighted to add my name to that rightly long list of backers. I am confident that, as Prime Minster, over the coming years she will vindicate her supporters hopes for the best Brexit possible.