The Conservatives must think about replacing Theresa May 'by the end of 2019'

Nicky MorganStefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images

  • The Conservative Party needs to begin the process of replacing Prime Minister Theresa May by the end of 2019, former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan told Business Insider.
  • Morgan, who is tipped to be a major figure in a post-May government, said the party needs to think about who will lead them into the next election sooner rather than later.
  • Speculation about an early election is rising in Westminster with May expected to lose a vote on her Brexit deal with the European Union for a second time next week.
  • Morgan has been a key figure in attempts to re-unite the Conservative party over its ongoing internal fighting over Brexit.
  • In an interview with BI, the Treasury Select Committee Chair strongly denied claims that the Conservative party had an Islamophobia problem and was being taken over by far-right entryism.

LONDON - The Conservative party must start the process of replacing Theresa May as prime minister before the end of this year, the former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has told Business Insider.

Morgan, who was thrown out of government by May when she became prime minister in 2016, said the Conservatives must begin to think about finding her successor in order to prepare for a potentially early general election.

"Certainly by the end of 2019 the party is going to have to be thinking about future leadership," Morgan told BI in an interview this week.

The prime minister last year pledged to stand down before the next general election, currently scheduled for 2022, after her own MPs launched a vote of no confidence in her leadership.

However, she has so far resisted attempts to spell out exactly when she will stand down, insisting that there are issues outside of Brexit she wishes to concentrate on, like the "burning injustices" she has vowed to eradicate.

"I think the prime minister is deeply frustrated that she can't do all of that because of Brexit," Morgan told BI.

"The prime minister definitely wants an opportunity to talk about those injustices in a way that she hasn't done before - and I understand that. But, she is not going to lead us into the next election. We don't know when that election is going to come, and given the lack of majority in Parliament, it may come sooner than 2022."

There has been growing speculation in Westminster about an early election, ever since May lost a House of Commons vote on her Brexit deal by a record-breaking margin back in January.

With the Democratic Unionist party, which props up May's minority government, threatening to withdraw their support, many figures in the party are turning their attention towards the possibility of an early vote.
Certainly by the end of 2019 the party is going to have to be thinking about future leadership.

"At some point, the Conservative party will absolutely need to think about the leadership question, whether it is this year or next," Morgan said.

The MP for Loughborough was a senior member of David Cameron's government and has previously been tipped as a future prime minister. However, her political career received a setback after May removed her from government alongside her ally, former Chancellor George Osborne.

Following her departure, Morgan fell out with May's team in a public spat over a £1,000 pair of leather trousers worn by the prime minister.

Text messages leaked to the press at the time revealed May's aides referred to Morgan as "that woman" and insisted that she should not be allowed into Downing Street.

Morgan - Conservative entryism is exaggerated

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Last month three MPs - Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen, and Sarah Wollaston - quit the Tory party, citing the alleged "Bluekip" takeover of local associations as one of their reasons for walking out and joining the Independent Group.

"This shift to the right has been exacerbated by blatant entryism," the trio wrote to May upon their departure.

"A purple momentum is subsuming the Conservative party, much as the hard left has been allowed to consume and terminally undermine the Labour Party."

As BI reported hours before Soubry, Allen and Wollaston's departure, the Conservative party's "moderate" wing is concerned that pro-EU MPs are being targeted for deselection by an increasingly pro-Brexit membership.

However, Morgan, who was a prominent campaigner for Remain in the 2016 EU referendum, has recently been a key figure in attempts to heal internal divisions over Europe in the party.

She is now working with the "Malthouse Compromise" group, alongside leading Brexiteers such as the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, in order to find a position for both wings of the party to unite around.

She dismissed suggestions that her party was being pushed by Brexiteers towards a far-right fringe.

Morgan said this characterisation of the Tory party was "just not right," adding that: "I don't subscribe to this view that the far-right is somehow in control of the Conservative party from top to toe."

She added: "Apart from Europe, the Conservative party by and large agrees on everything.

I don't subscribe to this view that the far-right is somehow in control of the Conservative party from top to toe.

"There will be an element of people having slightly different views on foreign policy or how generous the welfare system should be, but at the Spring Statement next week, almost all Conservative MPs will be on the same page."

The former secretary of state admitted that a wave of new members had recently joined the party "because they want Brexit," but suggested that talk of Conservative party entryism had been heavily exaggerated.

"When I go to Conservative associations, they are much more likely to say to me 'for God's sake, don't let Corbyn in' than they are to say 'we joined because we want to get rid of certain MPs who we don't agree with on Brexit'.

"At the end of the day, any political party wants to see an increase in membership. That's not an issue. It's more of question of making sure we hold together as one Conservative force."

She also denied reports of widespread attempts to remove pro-EU MPs.

"There is no doubt that people in Nick Boles' association have talked about it [de-selections] seriously.

"But how many people more widely have actually talked about it? I can't remember the last time the Conservative party deselected a Member of Parliament. It was a very long time ago. It's not something that happens."

Morgan also shot down claims that the Tories have an Islamophobia problem, leveled by figures like the party's former co-chair Baroness Warsi, after over a dozen members were suspended for discriminatory comments about Muslims.

"I understand that Sayeeda [Baroness Warsi] feels very passionately about this, and maybe it's that her experiences are different from mine," she told BI.

"But I have a significant Bangladeshi, Muslim population in my local constituency, and never have they said to me they don't feel like the Conservative party is a party they can support because of people's views on Islam or because they are Muslims.

"It's not something I recognise at all."

Article 50 extension could be a "very, very bad idea"

Nicky MorganKirsty O'Connor/PA Images via Getty Images

Morgan, who voted for May's deal in the first meaningful vote, said it was "absolutely possible" that the House of Commons would vote for May's deal "by a small majority" in the new vote penciled in for next week.

However, if the Withdrawal Agreement doesn't pass, MPs are set to have a choice between either a no-deal Brexit or delaying Brexit in order to avoid an abrupt and disruptive exit on March 29.

She admitted that despite its complications, Brexit being delayed via an extension to Article 50 was almost certain.

"The period of time needed to pass necessary legislation is pretty challenging. A short, technical extension to get legislation through seems more than likely," Morgan said.

She revealed that she hadn't decided how she'd vote on a possible extension, and expressed concern about growing calls among MPs for the Article 50 process to be extended into the summer.

"Nobody wants there to be no deal on March 29 but we need to hear what the government strategy is if the vote doesn't go through. In the same way that the government stepped in so the House didn't need to vote on the Cooper-Boles amendments, what is the government's plan going to be?" she said.

"When it comes to the extension of Article 50, how long is the government talking about?

"What does the government intend to do during that time? And how will it relate to fighting the European Parliament elections, which I think would be a really, really bad idea for us to get involved in."

Part "B" of the Malthouse Compromise - a plan designed to find "alternative arrangements" to the controversial backstop for Northern Ireland - effectively means leaving the EU without a deal in less than four weeks time.

Morgan admitted she had been "uncomfortable" signing up to this part of the plan, devised by Brexiteers including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker, but said preparing for a no-deal exit "has to be on the government's agenda."

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