Theresa May says a new PM must ‘heal divisions’ as Boris Johnson resigns

Adrian Williams

Adrian Williams
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Maidenhead’s MP Theresa May has said the next PM must ‘heal divisions’ and address damaged public trust – amid the news that Boris Johnson is resigning.

The news of Mr Johnson’s resignation broke while Mrs May was giving a speech on the state of public service.

She was speaking at the James Brokenshire lecture on public service, livestreamed by the Institute for Government this afternoon (Thursday, July 7) at 12pm.

Of particular concern to Mrs May is the level of public trust in politicians. She cited a YouGov poll for the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which found that 63 per cent of people believe their politicians are ‘mainly out for themselves’.

“More shockingly, just five per cent believe they’re in it for the interests of their country,” Mrs May said. “The figures make for sobering reading.”

“One of the fundamental expectations of the people we represent is that we play by the rules,” she added. “No double standards, no taking advantage of the position one holds.

“Breaking the rules and breaking the spirit of the rules injures the standing of our democracy.

“We can’t claim as a country to operate in line with the rule of law if we flagrantly abuse our own obligations under treaties we have signed.

“Playing by the rules also means not changing them on a whim for short term interests.”

Mrs May added that politicians ‘must reject the culture of exceptionalism’ that make it seem like the rules ‘somehow don’t apply’ to Government and Parliament simply because they are unlike other workplaces.

She felt that the ‘incidents shown to have taken place during the pandemic in Downing Street and Whitehall’ demonstrated that cultural idea of ‘excess and exceptionalism.’

Mrs May added that ‘responsible leadership involves ‘taking responsibility for the actions of those we lead’.

“It is particularly inexcusable to see the civil service repeatedly and publicly vilified and blamed when policy isn’t working in the way politicians intended,” she said.

The Maidenhead PM also raised concerns over the extent of use of secondary legislation created ‘at the strike of a minister’s pen’, which are subject to ‘substantially less scrutiny’.

She told her audience that 80 per cent of these come via the ‘negative procedure’, meaning something is passed into law before Parliament ‘has had any say in the matter’.

She said that more than 500 statutory instruments were made in relation to COVID alone - and in the last two calendar years, there have been more than 3,000 of them.

Mrs May additionally expressed concerns over the impact this is having on the Northern Ireland Protocol, which she says contains a clause that creates a ‘do whatever you like’ power for ministers.

Mrs May finished by saying that she believes there is a need for moderation and centre-ground in politics – and Government should ‘govern, not campaign’.

During Mrs May’s speech, news broke of Boris Johnson’s resignation. During a Q&A session, Mrs May was asked what a new prime minister can do to restore public trust in politicians.

“The key thing a new prime minister needs to do is heal divisions – both in the country and in our party," she said.

“I fear what's happened in recent years is we’ve seen people becoming increasingly polarised.”

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