Theresa May’s biggest weakness in the Tory leadership race is that she backed Remain while most Tory members went Leave. But, as I say in The Sun this morning, if she can sound confident and optimistic about Brexit, then she will win and become Britain’s next Prime Minister.
May needs to make clear that now the referendum result is in, she’s sees Brexit as an opportunity to be seized, not as a risk to be managed. She can’t afford to cede optimism on this to Andrea Leadsom.
I understand that her Leave-voting supporters—Liam Fox, Priti Patel, David Davis and her campaign chair Chris Grayling—will all be out and about this weekend saying that May is the person to deliver exit. But she would be well advised to give a big speech herself setting out the foreign capitals she would head to in her first 100 days to pave the way for trade deals for a post Brexit Britain.
Doing this would also allow May to point to her trump card, her experience. She has been on the Tory front bench for 17 years and Home Secretary for six, Leadsom has been a junior minister for two years. With the most complex negotiation of the post-war era ahead of us, she can ask, is this the right time for a novice?
This will be a very different campaign from the one that May expected to fight. For years, she has been setting herself up to run against a male opponent—a Boris or an Osborne. But now May is taking on another woman, it doesn’t matter that she’s isn’t part of the parliamentary boy’s club because her opponent isn’t either. Which is another reason why May can’t cede optimism to Leadsom.