Nigel Lawson: Theresa May “has been a disaster in every way”

The former chancellor says he would have voted against the PM in last night’s confidence ballot to prevent the UK becoming "a dependency of the European Union"

December 13, 2018
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson arrives at television studios in Westminster today where he was interviewed about his comments on Europe at the weekend.
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson arrives at television studios in Westminster today where he was interviewed about his comments on Europe at the weekend.

“I would have obviously voted against her, because she has been a disaster in every way. The deal which she has come back with is the worst deal imaginable.”

In an interview with Prospect, Nigel Lawson revealed that he would have cast his ballot against the prime minister in last night’s confidence vote.

The result “probably was as expected. The new element is that she gave this promise that she wouldn’t stand at the next election, and I think that will be a relief to the entire Conservative Party.”

A conservative grandee, Lawson served as chancellor for six years under Margaret Thatcher and chaired the official Vote Leave campaign in 2016. He now sits in the Lords.

His comments come in the aftermath of a profoundly humiliating day for the PM. After 48 Tory MPs submitted letters of no confidence, 117 of them voted against her in the subsequent poll. She staggers on, but Eurosceptics are furious with her for selling out their Brexit vision. They don’t think her Brexit is Brexit at all.

When it comes to May’s deal, “there is nothing to be said for it,” Lawson told me. It would “commit the UK to being a dependency of the European Union, and indefinitely.”

“She now says she is going to renegotiate it and get fundamental change, but I don’t think that’s on. They conned her, or persuaded her, into this capitulation and they’re not going to let her off the hook.”

May has returned to Brussels desperate for reassurances on the controversial Irish backstop. Without these there is no chance her deal will win MPs’ support. Even with concessions it looks unlikely to pass. There is a chance that Britain crashes out with no deal at all—which most economists think could be ruinous.

Lawson said: “I think this is the only acceptable outcome, and it is in a sense the default position because we are committed to leaving.” When May “was thinking more clearly than she is today,” she herself “held this out as a possibility. She said it was better than a bad trade deal. She is now under the delusion that she has got a good deal but nobody else thinks it’s a good deal.”

With so much uncertainty in the political system, it’s not just no deal campaigners forcing their point. Those who would like to see a second referendum are growing ever louder.

Asked whether he could see this happening, Lawson said “well, politics is always unpredictable and particularly unpredictable at the present time. I wouldn’t say there is absolutely no chance.”

“I think it’s highly unlikely and it would be quite wrong… I think it would be a major crisis.”

The Conservative Party, meanwhile, remains impossibly split. “I think that the split is partly a failure of leadership. But it’s also because of the toxic nature of the Brexit issue, and once we’re out of the European Union I think this will die away.”

“I think that being in the European Union has increasingly been uncomfortable for the Conservative Party and indeed for the country,” Lawson said. “The only satisfactory way of resolving this division, is to leave.”