Former chancellor Ken Clarke says he believes there is no way Theresa May will be replaced as Tory leader “by anybody sensible”.
Anti-Brexit Mr Clarke was answering a question from Sky’s Niall Paterson about whether he would join the Conservatives if he was a young man today, alluding to rumours that various right-wing eurosceptic Conservatives could win a leadership contest.
He joked that talk of leadership elections tends to take place whenever serious subjects, like Brexit, are being discussed.
Among the MPs being talked about as a potential replacement for Mrs May is pro-Brexit Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is on record as saying he opposes abortion under any circumstances.
But Mr Clarke’s analysis did not appear to anticipate Mrs May being leader at the next election, saying instead that he thinks she will be around for two or three years.
He said: “Theresa May is there. There is no prospect of her being replaced by anybody sensible, in any sensible process.
“For the next two or three years, Theresa has got the job of presiding over a smooth transition, through a long transition period, to an arrangement that, at least, will minimise the damage in a few years’ time.”
He added: “Whenever the Conservative party can’t think of anything to do, it tends to have a leadership crisis, when it’s rather puzzled by policies.
“The things we’ve been talking about (like Brexit)… they are quite complicated. They are difficult.
“Eurosceptic campaigners offered simplicity – It’s all Brussels’ fault…. leave the EU and with one bound we are free and a brave new world will emerge. Well, that is nonsense.
“It’s no use diverting ourselves by saying ‘Would Jacob Rees-Mogg be a 21st century prime minister?’
Mr Clarke went on: “Our economy is in a very worrying state. We need, as soon as possible, an assurance that… in trade terms our arrangements with Europe are going to carry on for some years as they are now.
“It’s our children and our grandchildren we should be thinking about. Not next week’s newspaper headline.”
Dominic Raab, the justice minister, was asked whether he would consider taking over from Mrs May, after he came third in a recent Conservative Home survey to see who readers would prefer.
He said: “If I was working for a business and I was walking around the canteen with other workers, talking about who was going to be the next boss, talking about that with clients, most people think it would be rude and grossly unprofessional, which is why I’m not going to give that tittle-tattle any succour at all.”