'Deluded' Theresa May responds to backlash over claims she'll fight next election

Andy Wells
Theresa May has vowed to lead the Tories into the next election (Rex)

Theresa May has dismissed criticism of her ‘deluded’ vow to fight the next general election, insisting she ‘isn’t a quitter’.

Senior Tories have cast doubt on the PM’s vow to take Britain through Brexit in 2019 and into the next election as leader of the Conservative Party.

Former ministers Nicky Morgan and Grant Shapp have said it would be difficult for her to continue following the disastrous election this year which saw her lose the Tory majority.

Jon Trickett, shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, said Mrs May was “deluding herself”.

But at a press conference alongside Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, Mrs May said: “I said I wasn’t a quitter and there is a long-term job to do. There is an important job to be done in the United Kingdom, we stand at a really critical time in the UK.”

In an attempt to show that her administration would not be defined by Brexit, Mrs May insisted she was tackling “long-term challenges” to reform the economy and tackle “injustices” including in mental health care.

“These are real issues that we need to be dealing with and I’m there to do it,” she said.

“For most members of the public, they would say they want the Government to get on with the job and that’s exactly what I and the Government are doing.”

A PM under pressure

Rumours had suggested the Prime Minister had decided to quit the day before Britain exits the EU in 2019.

However, when questioned on Wednesday night about her plans for the next few years, Mrs May defiantly vowed to carry on.

Asked if she intends to fight the next election, she said: “Yes. There’s been an awful lot of speculation about my future which has no basis in it whatsoever.

Mrs May insisted she was not a quitter when asked about her future on a trip to Japan (PA)

“I’m in this for the long term. There’s a real job to be done in the United Kingdom.

“It’s about getting the Brexit deal right, it’s about building that deep and special partnership with the European Union, but it’s also about building global Britain, trading around the world.

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Pressed to rule out stepping down before the next election, due in 2022, she replied: “I’m not a quitter.”

After the disastrous June election that saw Mrs May lose the Conservative majority, the humbled PM told backbenchers she would continue to serve as long as the party wanted her to.

But the Prime Minister struck a more strident tone as she visited Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, for meetings with counterpart Shinzo Abe.

The Prime Minister lost her Commons majority in the June election (Rex)

Mrs May said she was “here for the long term and it’s crucial, what me and my Government are about is not just delivering on Brexit, we are delivering a brighter future for the United Kingdom”.

She set down the marker after a summer of speculation about her leadership, and mischief-making including suggestions that popular backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg could take the the top job.

Mrs May’s declaration comes just two years after her predecessor, David Cameron, insisted he would remain in post even if he lost the EU referendum, only to quit weeks later when his worst fears were realised.

Jon Trickett, shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, said Mrs May was “deluding herself”.

He added: ”Neither the public nor Tory MPs believe her fantasy of staying on till 2022. Theresa May leads a zombie government.

Tory backbencher Nicky Morgan said it would be difficulty for Mrs May to lead the Tories into the next election (Rex)

“The sooner the public has the chance to vote out her and her Government the better for our country’s future.”

Tory reaction

There was a mixed reaction from Tories to Mrs May’s defiant stance to remain as leader for the long term.

Tory former cabinet minister Nicky Morgan said it would be “difficult” for the Prime Minister to lead the party into the next election.

She told BBC’s Hardtalk that no leader wants to put a date on their departure in advance because it is a sign of “your own political mortality”.

But she added: “I think it’s going to be difficult for Theresa May to lead us into the next general election.”

Lord Heseltine has said that “the long term is the difficult one for Theresa May because I don’t think she’s got a long term” while former party chairman Grant Shapps said: “I think colleagues may well be surprised by this interview last night and I think it is too early to be talking about going on and on, as Margaret Thatcher once said.”

However, other senior Tory MP’s rallied around the Prime Minister.

Boris Johnson said he fully supported the Prime Minister (Rex)

Nigel Evans, who was scathing in his criticism of the Tory campaign after Mrs May’s election gamble backfired, insisted that the Prime Minister’s vow to continue was “great news”.

He said: ”We need no more instability whilst the PM focuses on disentangling the UK from the EU.”

“We have the right leader and PM to deliver this for us.”

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, viewed as a potential candidate in any Tory leadership contest, said the Prime Minister had his “undivided backing”.

He added: ”We need to get Brexit done. She’s ideally placed to deliver a great outcome for our country and then deliver what we all want to see, which is this exciting agenda of global Britain.

“I think she gets it. She really wants to deliver it. I’m here to support her.”