Stephen Crabb made a passionate plea this morning for Tories to stop thinking in terms of Remain and Leave when it comes to picking a leader. He warned that if people carry on doing this, it will lead to the party splitting.
But all things being equal, I do think it would be best for the next Prime Minister to be a Leaver. After all, David Cameron resigned because he had campaigned for Remain and the country had voted to leave and he thought that made it impossible for him to chart the country on the new course it must now follow.
There are two main reasons for thinking a Leave PM preferable. First of all, this would provide some accountability for what Vote Leave promised in the referendum. At the next election, voters would be able to decide whether the promises the new Prime Minister had made during the referendum had been honoured. I do worry about what happens if Leave voters feel that they haven’t got what they voted for, but have no one to hold to account for this failure. It would also align the positions of the government and the Leave side during the referendum. This would end the current situation where the government, including the Home Secretary Theresa May, is refusing to guarantee that EU nationals in the UK will be able to stay post-Brexit despite Vote Leave having said that they would be able to.
The second reason is that a Leaver would have more of a mandate to negotiate the exit arrangements. They would have been on the winning side of the referendum and, therefore, in a better positon to speak for what those who backed Leave were voting for.
But what the Remainers in the race need to show is that they don’t just want to limit the risks of Brexit, but that they can see the opportunities it brings. As one Secretary of State who had campaigned for Remain said to me the day after the referendum, ‘if we are going to be Out, we should be properly Out.’ There is little to be said for leaving the EU only to seek a Norway-style deal with it.
At the moment, the candidate who has set out the boldest post-Brexit vision is Gove. His speech on Friday was radical not only on the EU front but on what needs to change at home. His willingness to say that privatisation has been ‘discredited’ in Britain because of the excessive salaries paid to those who manage utilities was refreshing in its willingness to challenge Tory orthodoxy.