Theresa May launched extraordinary swipes at Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin today – warning about the rise of ‘loud’ leaders who are poisoning politics.
In a valedictory speech, the PM – who steps down next week – said she had ‘lived’ politics for 50 years, and knew about its potential to ‘improve people’s lives’.
But she voiced dismay at the toxic state of debate, saying Western civilisation was at a ‘pivot point’ and people had to operate in the ‘real world’ rather than making ‘promises they cannot keep’.
In barely-veiled jibes at her likely successor Mr Johnson and Brexit hardliners, as well as the US and Russian presidents, she told the audience at Chatham House: ‘Getting things done rather than simply getting them said, requires some qualities that have become unfashionable of late.
‘One of them is a willingness to compromise. That does not mean compromising your values… it means being driven by and when necessary standing up for your values and convictions, but doing so in the real world in the arena of public life where others are making their own case and pursuing their own interests.
Underlining her anger that she had failed to get a Brexit compromise through Parliament, Mrs May added: ‘The alternative is a politics of winners and losers of absolute and perpetual strife and that threatens us all.’
The outgoing PM has so far remained a largely impartial observer of the Tory leadership race to replace her.
Mr Johnson has faced accusations of spraying around pledges that he may struggle to deliver when in office during the leadership contest.
His rival in the battle for Number 10, Jeremy Hunt, has directly accused him of advocating ‘populist’ policies.
But with the race between Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt now drawing to a close, Mrs May delivered her most combative assessment of the political landscape.
Theresa May (pictured today as she left 10 Downing Street) is expected to use a speech this afternoon to warn against the rise of populism
Boris Johnson (pictured arriving in Westminster today) has repeatedly been accused of making ‘populist’ promises during the Tory leadership contest
She set out her concerns about the increasingly polarised state of politics both at home and abroad.
Mrs May said: ‘Today, an inability to combine principles with pragmatism and make a compromise when required seems to have driven our whole political discourse down the wrong path.
‘It has led to what is, in effect, a form of absolutism. One which believes that if you simply assert your view loud enough and long enough you will get your way in the end.
‘Or that mobilising your own faction is more important than bringing others with you. This is coarsening our public debate.’
Mrs May said the ‘middle of the road’ was wrongly seen as a bad concept in modern politics.
Quoting ex-US president Dwight D Eisenhower, she said: ‘Eisenhower once wrote people talk about the middle of the road as though it were unacceptable.
‘Things are not all black and white. There have to be compromises. The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extreme right and left are in the gutters.
‘I believe that seeking the common ground and being prepared to make compromises in order to make progress does not entail a rejection of our values and convictions by one iota rather it is precisely the way to defend them.’
Last week she launched what was interpreted as a coded attack on Mr Johnson as she said: ‘Too many people in politics think being Prime Minister is a position of power.
‘Actually, it is a position of service to the country where you are always asking yourself ‘What more can I do for the public?’.
‘All too often those who see it as a position of power see it as about themselves and not about the people they are serving. There is a real difference.’
Mrs May said voters felt left behind by a political class who had failed to address their concerns.
She said: ‘Populist movements have seized the opportunity to capitalise on that vacuum. They have embraced the politics of division, identifying the enemies to blame for our problems and offering apparently easy answers.
‘In doing so they promote a polarised politics which views the world through a prism of us and them, a prism of winners and losers which views compromise and cooperation through international institutions as signs of weakness not strength.’
Mrs May said the UK had to defend the values which are ‘fundamental to our way of life’.
She said: ‘We need to rebuild support for them by addressing people’s legitimate concerns through actual solutions that can command public consent rather than populist promises that in the end are not solutions at all.’
Mrs May has not backed either of the candidates vying to replace her as prime minister.
She said last Wednesday that she believed both men would make an ‘excellent’ leader.
She told MPs: ‘The next leader of the Conservative Party will be an excellent Prime Minister, whichever candidate wins, and they will ensure that they take this country through Brexit, deliver on the 2016 referendum, ignore the attempts by [Remain MPs] to try to go back on the democratic vote of the British people, and lead us forward to a brighter future.’
Sky News suggested Mrs May will also use her speech today to express her deep regret at having failed to deliver Brexit.
Mrs May (pictured today as she took part in her penultimate PMQs) has remained largely an impartial observer during the Tory leadership campaign
Mr Johnson (pictured today) is reportedly considering a plan to hold an early general election next year
She is also expected to turn her fire on Jeremy Corbyn over the Labour Party’s anti-Semitism crisis.
Barclay laughs at Hammond’s No Deal Brexit warning
Stephen Barclay mocked Philip Hammond today as he laughed at the Chancellor’s claim that a No Deal Brexit would cost the Treasury £90 billion in lost revenue.
The Brexit Secretary accused Mr Hammond of quoting ‘selectively’ from official reports as he rubbished the prediction but was forced to admit it was the government’s agreed position.
His comments came as leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg also attacked Mr Hammond’s ‘Project Fear’ forecast as he claimed No Deal could actually boost the economy by £80 billion.
Mr Hammond hit back against the criticism as he said it was ‘terrifying that someone this close to a potential future government can think we’d actually be better off’ with a disorderly Brexit.
Meanwhile, Mr Barclay dismissed suggestions that last week he had a blazing row with Michel Barnier amid claims he told the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator five times that the Withdrawal Agreement was ‘dead’.
Mr Barclay said there was no argument between the pair but that he had pointed out that if the divorce deal is ‘unchanged’ it will not be agreed by MPs, something he described as not a ‘particularly controversial observation’.
Mrs May’s speech came as attention increasingly started to turn to what Mr Johnson will do if and when he becomes PM.
The former foreign secretary is reportedly plotting to hold an early general election once Brexit gets over the line so that he can face off against Labour ‘while Jeremy Corbyn is still around’.
The Tory frontrunner is said to have told aides to prepare for an election as early as next summer.
The next election is not due until 2022, but the government’s instability over recent months has prompted frequent speculation of an early poll.
Speaking to The Times, Boris aides said the Tories wanted to exploit the ‘groundwork’ they had already done for a campaign against Mr Corbyn.
Meanwhile, Amber Rudd warned the next prime minister they will have to compromise on Brexit to get a better deal from Brussels as she said the negotiating red lines of Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt ‘will collide with reality’.
The Work and Pensions Secretary suggested whoever wins the Tory leadership race will have to rethink their demand to delete the Irish backstop from the divorce agreement.
Both Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt have insisted the border protocol is ‘dead’.
But new EU chief Ursula von der Leyen, who was narrowly elected as the next president of the European Commission yesterday, said the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be renegotiated as she stuck to the bloc’s long-held position.
With Brussels adamant the divorce deal cannot be changed and both PM candidates refusing to countenance striking an accord with the backstop still in it, the prospect of a No Deal Brexit appears increasingly likely.
Ex-Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom (pictured on ITV’s Peston last month) said she would not back a move by a new PM to prorogue the Commons at a crucial point in the Brexit process
Mr Johnson was also under pressure today to rule out suspending parliament in the run up to the October 31 Brexit deadline to stop MPs thwarting No Deal.
It was claimed yesterday that Mr Johnson was considering a plan to prorogue parliament in the two weeks before Halloween to prevent a last-minute bid to prevent a chaotic split from the bloc.
But former Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom said today she would not willingly participate in such a proposal.
Asked if she would go along with it if Mr Johnson took that course of action, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today: ‘No, I don’t believe I would and I don’t believe it will happen.’
Mr Johnson has promised to deliver Brexit by October 31 ‘do or die’ and with or without a deal.
But there are major questions over whether he actually will be able to follow through on the pledge if MPs move to block him.