May owns up: PM admits ‘underestimating’ Brexit challenge – but feels ‘pride’ for reign
In one of her final broadcast interviews before leaving Downing Street later this month, the Prime Minister said she was standing down from her job with “a mixture of pride and disappointment”. “I underestimated the unwillingness of some parts of Parliament to compromise,” she said. She also insisted both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt “understand the responsibility this job brings” while declining to back either candidate to succeed her. Mrs May reflected on her three years as prime minister in an interview with BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg at Downing Street ahead of the hand over of power to the winner of the Tory leadership contest on July 24. She predicted that on departure she will have “immense pride at having done the job, and disappointment that there was more that I wanted to do” but confessed failure to get Commons backing for her Brexit deal had been “incredibly frustrating”.
Mrs May said she had “assumed” that Parliament would be “eager” to “get Brexit over the line” given the 2016 referendum vote and the 2017 election result backing for parties committed to leaving the EU.
“I assumed that people therefore would be eager to get Brexit over the line and to support delivering on the vote for people.
“So it was disappointment.
“What happens when you’ve lost a vote like that – you reflect on why what’s happened but then you actually have to pick yourself up and the team has to pick itself up and you go out because you’ve got to work out how can we try to get this through.”
Mrs May admitted she was not able to say where her “astonishing resilience” sprang from.
“To be honest I don’t know. I guess it’s just sort of me,” the prime minister said. “Philip, my husband, is hugely supportive and that’s been important.
“I’ve always said that though the other important thing is just to keep a vision on where you’re trying to get to, what you’re trying to achieve.
“There will be setbacks. Sadly, of course, I haven’t managed to get Brexit over the line. I’m disappointed about that and frustrated about that but you keep that end goal in sight whatever you’re doing.”
She added: “There were moments when I sat here and thought I wish we’d got Brexit over the line, you know I wish we’d managed to achieve that. We’re going to have to have another go at that.
“But because there was always that sense that I’ve had of wanting to deliver Brexit but also the other things that I’ve wanted to do as Prime Minister, many of the things I’ve been able to do. That’s what kept me on, spurred me on.”
Mrs May said she will leave Number 10 with positive memories of her time there with husband Philip May.
“I will leave with happy memories. I felt at home here as Prime Minister but it’s obviously not the home that Philip and I built up together.
“It is very much a place of work but there are happy memories because it is an immense privilege to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, it’s a huge honour it has a huge responsibility but I’m immensely proud to have been able to do it for three years.”
She said she did not “recognise” the negative descriptions of her from some sections of the media during her time as prime minister.
“This is always a difficult question because I don’t recognise myself in some of the descriptions that people give of me.
“But I think in this role the responsibility is that you’ve got a job to do and you’ve got to focus on actually delivering that job. I think that’s actually what the members of the public want at the end of the day.
“They want a Prime Minister who’s interested in doing things that will improve their lives,” she said.
“Nobody likes to have descriptions of them that they don’t think are right but that’s what happens in politics. It doesn’t only happen to Prime Ministers.
“Throughout a political life you have to be prepared for the fact that people will portray you in ways that you might not agree with.”
Asked about how she will feel on leaving the residence, she said: “I think it’ll be a mixture of pride at having done the job but also a degree of disappointment because there was more that I wanted to do.
“I think we have achieved a lot over the last three years but whenever you come to the end of a Premiership I think everybody will always feel that there is more that they wanted to do.
“What people say to me is on the one hand that I stuck too firmly to my red lines, and on the other hand people say and sometimes the same people say that I gave up too much, I compromised too much.
“Both of these cannot be true. But everybody in Parliament had a responsibility in how they voted on this on this issue.
“As I say I think I did underestimate; I knew the negotiations with the EU would be tough but I’d underestimated the extent to which Parliament was not willing to just deliver what people wanted in the referendum, and we saw increasing arguments in Parliament about the nature of Brexit, when actually you know if I’d managed to get a majority for my deal we would already have left the European Union.”
She described the failure to get backing for her deal as “incredibly frustrated” but hoped her successor could break the deadlock.
“It’s incredibly frustrating. What I hope is that my successor now has the job of bringing the majority together in Parliament.
“And I hope they will be able to find that majority to ensure that we leave in a good way for the United Kingdom. I still think that’s to leave with a good deal,” she said.
Mrs May signalled irritation with the way a string of ministers had flouted Cabinet collective responsibility.
“I think there is a challenge for government. Good government, good Cabinet government depends on collective responsibility, and on what is said within the Cabinet Room and at other obviously important ministerial meetings staying there.
“And I think that is something the Brexit debate the huge passionately held views on the issue of Europe.
“But I think once we have left the EU we can get a government can get forward over that Brexit issue, collective responsibility needs to return,” she said.
She insisted she did not regret triggering the 2017 general election that wiped out the Tory majority in the Commons.
“I don’t regret calling the election. I regret running a campaign that wasn’t really me.”
Asked if she felt Boris Johnson understood the “seriousness” involved in being prime minister, Mrs May said: “I think both of both of the candidates to succeed me have held very senior positions in the cabinet, very senior positions in government. They’ve been close to the prime minister.
“They’ve seen the responsibilities of the prime ministerial job.
“They’ve both borne significant responsibilities in the cabinet positions they’ve held. I think they understand the responsibility that this job brings.”
Asked what she would miss on leaving Downing Street, the outgoing prime minister said: “I won’t miss being on call all the time.
“I will miss the opportunity to meet people who have contributed to this country in so many different ways, and who are often unsung and unheard, and so I’ll miss the opportunity to be able to go sometimes and just say ‘thank you’ to people for what they’re doing for this country.”
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