LONDON (Reuters) - “We won’t hold back,” former Chancellor and now newspaper editor George Osborne declared on Thursday in a warning to Prime Minister Theresa May that he will not relent in his criticism of her Brexit plans.
After being sacked by May when she was appointed prime minister following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, the once-powerful finance minister has become a vocal critic of the government, using his role at the London-based newspaper, the Evening Standard, to skewer the Conservative leader.
Having once described her pledge to run again as leader at the next election as something similar to seeing “the living dead in a second-rate horror film”, Osborne has become a thorn in the side of a prime minister under pressure from many in a party deeply divided over how Britain should leave the EU. [
And, recounting his experience of marshalling the governing party in votes over his 16 years in parliament, he said May did not have a majority for a so-called hard Brexit.
“The people of this country voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. Much as I think that it was a historic mistake ... I believe we should respect the outcome and leave,” he told journalists over lunch in parliament.
“But how we leave was not on the ballot paper - whether we remain in the single market that Margaret Thatcher created or the customs union was not on the ballot paper, whether we shut our country off from immigrants was not on the ballot paper.”
Osborne said he would take on those “hard Brexiteers,” whom he described as driving the ruling Conservative Party and the country towards an economically damaging departure with “false arguments and broken promises,” by demanding evidence from them.
“Conservatives who say we should only listen to the 52 percent (who voted to leave the EU), that the 48 percent should put up and shut up, should be told they are making a huge mistake, a mistake we paid for heavily this June,” he said, referring to this year’s election when the governing party lost its majority in parliament.
“The Evening Standard will be speaking up ... and we will expose the false arguments and broken promises of the hard Brexiteers,” Osborne said.
He warned May that she would lose her leadership before the end of this parliament in 2022 and that the party would fail at any election if it continued to present itself as “anti-modern, anti-immigrant, anti-urban, anti-metropolitan”.
“Then huge sections of the country will be anti-us. We saw that frankly at the last general election and we may see it in the London (local government) elections in a few months time.”
While refusing to repeat comments he infamously made about wanting to see May “chopped up in bags in my freezer”, he could not resist showing his desire for her to go.
“When you want to get rid of a leader (article) in a newspaper you just delete and start again,” he said.
“It’s a lot easier.”
Additional reporting by William James; editing by Stephen Addison