Theresa May’s successor could be one of shortest-serving Prime Ministers - Tom Richmond

Prime Minister Theresa May making a statement about her departrue outside Downing Street yesterday. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Prime Minister Theresa May making a statement about her departrue outside Downing Street yesterday. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

THERESA May will, against the odds, reach one landmark next week. By Thursday, she will have become the 35th longest-serving premier, overtaking one Gordon Brown who survived in 10 Downing Street for two years and 319 days.

Her tenure will not outlast his by long, given yesterday’s emotional statement in which she revealed she will quit on June 7, though she will continue to serve while a Conservative leadership contest takes place.

Whilst news of her departure will, no doubt, cheer some of her opponents, there is nothing for the country to celebrate ahead of the results of this week’s European Parliament elections and fallout. And I’ve come to the conclusion that Parliament is now so deadlocked by Brexit – and everything else – that Mrs May, the country’s 76th leader, could, in all likelihood, be succeeded by one of the shortest-serving PMs ever.

Why? When Mrs May is replaced, the victor in the race will then be in the unenviable position of trying to form a government and, because the Tories lost their majority in 2017, will have to negotiate a new deal with Northern Ireland’s DUP in order to pass a Queen’s Speech so new laws can be debated and approved.

With no electoral mandate of their own, and the winner likely to be from the Brexit wing of the Tory party, it will not take much for Remain supporters on the Conservative benches to make their backing conditional. And with it becoming harder to secure a responsible Brexit deal, or any progress on totemic issues like social care, which remain so neglected, Mrs May’s successor might not be able to keep a fragile government together for any longer than the 119 days that George Canning was in office in 1827 before he died from a heart attack.

By then, the only way out of the mess would be a general election this autumn and the possibility, if Jeremy Corbyn was in a position to form a government, of a third PM in less than six months.

The closest precedent is 1924 when Stanley Baldwin’s first term as premier ended and Ramsay MacDonald led a minority Labour government for nine months before Baldwin was returned to power. As such, Conservative MPs – already guilty of under-estimating Mr Corbyn as a political campaigner – may wish to reflect on the treatment of Mrs May over Brexit.

There’s every likelihood that their obstructive actions of recent months will make it harder – not easier – for the next PM to form a responsible government which is capable of doing anything.

Though respectful of the electorate’s ultimate wishes, I do not think that this is the best way to run a country, even more so after the failure of MPs on all sides to be collegiate and conciliatory after the EU referendum. Those on her own benches who fought so hard for her departure may soon come to realise the truth of the old adage, be careful what you wish for.

PRECEDENT suggests Theresa May has to remain as Prime Minister until the Queen is satisfied that her successor can form a functioning government.

This did not quite happen in 2010 when Gordon Brown resigned very abruptly before talks between David Cameron and Nick Clegg on the Tory-Lib Dem coalition had been finalised.

Yet what if Tory MPs and activists choose a leader who is so divisive that a core of Conservative backbenchers refuse to co-operate? Where does that leave Her Majesty - and Theresa May?

All I’d say to MPs is avoid the third week in June when the Queen will be at Royal Ascot where Magnetic Charm, victorious at York last week under James Doyle for Yorkshire-born trainer William Haggas, is due to line up. She would not be amused.

I SEE Boris Johnson spent part of last weekend at the RSPB-run Bempton Cliffs nature reserve with his girlfriend Carrie Symonds. I’d like to think the former Foreign Secretary was familiarising with environmental matters, including coastal erosion, for his Tory leadership campaign. I suspect he was trying to shore up his vote in East Yorkshire - and that rural issues will not feature at all in his campaign. Or, for that matter, the blueprints put forward by any of his rivals.

FORMER Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, who resigned over Brexit, is launching her own leadership campaign with a tour of pubs. This must come as a disappointment to her fiancée Philip Davies, the Shipley MP, who would have far preferred such ‘meet and greets’ to take place at race meetings up and down the country.

OH dear. The bookshop Waterstones keeps sending me emails trying to persuade me to buy a signed copy of former premier David Cameron’s memoir, For The Record, which is finally due out this September to cause maximum disruption during the party conference season. There are then five sections to click on - starting with ‘fiction’ and then ‘non-fiction’. Even they must be having doubts about the credentials of the tome after the author, himself, said he was struggling for inspiration in his garden shed-cum-study.

POPPING into the local station to buy a ticket on the day the new timetable was being introduced, I asked the clerk if he was anticipating any additional delays and disruption. “What do you think?” he replied. “I don’t know who is worse – the Northern management or Chris Grayling.” Hardly a ringing endorsement.

SOME good news for Leeds United and Marcelo Bielsa as they wallow in their play-off defeat. The racehorse Bielsa – trained at Hambleton by Kevin Ryan – is now unbeaten from two starts and heading for promotion up racing’s ranks. Unlike the football team.

tom.richmond@jpimedia.co.uk