Theresa May stepping down as prime minister would not solve the Tories’ “Brexit catastrophe”, according to Parliament’s only Green MP.
Caroline Lucas said May’s disastrous party conference speech must have been “an excruciating experience”, but that her resignation - being called for by a number of Conservative MPs, led by former party chairman Grant Shapps - would fail to address any problems.
Speaking to HuffPost UK ahead of the Greens’ annual conference, which kicks off this weekend, Lucas said: “On a personal level my heart goes out to her, in the sense that it was clearly an excruciating experience that you wouldn’t wish on anybody. Having said that, the real disaster of that speech was not the prime minister’s cough, but more what was in the speech and a complete failure to address the overwhelmingly important issues of the day.
“On housing, for example, the idea that an extra five thousand council houses a year is really going to go anywhere towards addressing the absolute housing crisis that we face is just for the birds and a demonstration of just how out of touch the Tories are.
“The content of the speech was what was so incredibly disheartening - the lack of vision and the lack of any kind of understanding about what people want to hear.
“They are well aware that they face a problem, that they need to be attracting more young people to their cause, and yet what they were offering was just so insignificant and unhelpful, it’s really hard to see what they were thinking.”
Lucas, who is co-leader of her own party, said changing the leadership of the Conservative party would do nothing to address “this absolute Brexit catastrophe at its heart”.
“Whoever takes over from Theresa is still going to have that same challenge,” she added.
“They have obviously got a completely split parliamentary party on the issue, they can’t keep the same line more than a couple of days and the negotiations themselves seem to be going incredibly badly.
“When you’ve got the CBI themselves saying to the Conservative Party ‘pull yourselves together, you’re incompetent and incoherent’, that surely demonstrates just what an abysmal state the party is in, so changing leader isn’t going to help them.”
The Greens have long been pushing for a ‘ratification referendum’ on Brexit - a second chance for voters to decide whether they really want Britain to leave the EU once exit negotiations are complete.
Lucas said she hoped MPs from other parties who were concerned about the Brexit process would back her proposal for a second vote.
“We need to banish any ideas of this extreme Brexit, that no deal is better than a bad deal, all of this empty rhetoric that does not bear any scrutiny, because it’s quite clear that no deal would be an asbolute disaster for the economy,” she said.
“Get rid of that and look very seriously at the proposals for remaining inside the single market and maintaining freedom of movement.
“One way that both parties [Labour and Conservatives] could square the circle of the dilemma they have at the moment in terms of split views is to support the Green proposal for a ratification referendum.
“The process was started by the British people, who voted [Leave] by a narrow majority, and it feels to me that it should go back to them to have the final sign-off.
“If they like what they see, fine, but if they don’t, and if on balance they would prefer to remain inside the EU now they are equipped with an awful lot more information than they had when they voted to leave, then they should have the final say.”
Lucas, who job shares her leadership position with former Parliamentary hopeful Jonathan Bartley, said she hoped the hung parliament produced as a result of the 2017 election would afford her more chances to work with rival MPs.
“One positive thing I have discovered about Westminster is that contrary to some of the appearances, it is possible to work cross-party on a case-by-case basis.
“You can make headway on different issues and that obviously is crucial, because none of the opposition parties on their own are going to be enough - so we need to work together.”
The Greens have so far enjoyed a surprisingly civil working relationship with environment secretary Michael Gove, who since returning to the cabinet has pledged to champion a number of environmental issues, including animal welfare, air quality and tackling climate change.
“To his credit he does appear to want to make his mark on this department which is good, because recently we have had ministers who didn’t seem to care very much about the brief they have been given,” Lucas said.
“He is a big beast and he wants to make his mark, and as long as he is doing that in a positive way, then that’s great.
“That does not wipe clean his own voting record in this area - which has been far from positive - and there are plenty of challenges in terms of how he is going to square this new found environmental zeal with the fact the government is continuing to promote fracking and nuclear energy and airport expansion and HS2 and road-building and all of those other things.
“On the one hand, the idea that Gove is turning the Conservative Party into the real Green Party is genuinely laughable, but on the other hand, if we do now have somebody in that department who for whatever reason, whether they believe in it or not, is willing to be more positive and engage more seriously with these issues then that’s good, but the jury is out to see which way it goes.”
She said the Green conference, which is being held in Harrogate, Yorkshire, will focus on Brexit and its impact on the environment as its main theme.
Bartley will be in the spotlight as he delivers the leaders’ speech on Monday, and among policy motions to be voted on are proposals for a new bank holiday to celebrate “the contribution of migrants and people of colour” and enabling Parliamentary candidates to remain in place up to 18 months after a general election without being subjected to a new selection process.
Lucas said: “Ours is a very democratic, grassroots, bottom-up party, so essentially our policy is made by our members.
“There is no filtering process whereby motions are weeded out if they’re embarrassing to any part of the party. So in that sense, members can make a very real difference very early on to the direction of the party.”