We underestimated Corbyn, says Theresa May's ex-chief of staff

Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party, UK

Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s former chief of staff, has insisted the prime minister is not on a path to a softer Brexit, as he revealed he was still in contact with the prime minister since resigning in the wake of her disastrous election result.

Timothy, who was May’s right-hand man for six years, claimed he was not still advising her but expressed a view that she was not giving into demands from some colleagues for compromises on her Brexit red lines of leaving the single market and jurisdiction of the European court of justice.

“The fundamental things that the country voted for, that we will leave the EU, control immigration, that the court of justice should have no jurisdiction in this country, that we should stop paying membership fees – I’m confident that those things will end,” he said.

“For all the talk from some people that we must seek some sort of partial membership of the European Economic Area or something like that, the intention of the government has been clear from the beginning – that if you seek a partial relationship the danger is that you will be in the worst of all worlds, where you will be a rule-taker with none of the advantages of being in, but you will also sacrifice some of the advantages of being out.”

He argued that May was still prepared to walk away with no deal with the EU, despite her not repeating the claim that “no deal is better than a bad deal” in recent weeks.

“It would be a bad thing if we got into a situation where there was no deal for all concerned, but there are circumstances where Britain would have to be prepared to walk away. ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’ isn’t just a slogan, it means something,” Timothy said.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph in his first interview since the Conservatives lost their majority, Timothy partially accepted responsibility for the failures of the campaign, saying they underestimated the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

But Timothy went on to make the case for the Conservatives to maintain the spirit of the manifesto he co-authored, which contained policies such as lifting the ban on grammar schools and an unpopular social care shakeup that was branded a dementia tax.

He said: “Overall the lesson of the election for the party and for the government cannot be: ‘Oh well, we tried that and we didn’t win the election we were hoping for so let’s not try it any more’.

“If the party retreats to a much more orthodox Conservative proposition then I worry that won’t be sufficient to tackle the big problems that the country has, and in five years’ time we do risk the election of a dangerous leftwing alternative.”

Asked if he was still in touch with the prime minister, Timothy said: “I have spoken to Theresa a few times since the election. But I haven’t seen her and I’m not advising her on policy. They are private conversations – people catching up.”

He claimed May was a victim of sexism from those who claimed he was the brains behind her premiership.

He said: “She has done a very good job of stabilising things since the election which disproves that theory anyway, but I do think there’s more than a hint of sexism, to be honest – there’s a sort of implication that even having become prime minister she somehow doesn’t have a set of beliefs and a programme of her own, and she obviously does. Suggesting I’m the creator of those ideas is absurd and insulting to her.”

Timothy is expected to write columns for two newspapers after maintaining silence since he resigned the day after the election.

A number of Tory MPs called for him and Fiona Hill, the other co-chief of staff, to go after the election, accusing them of controlling behaviour. Katie Perrior, May’s former communications chief, branded the pair “rude, abusive and childish” and there were reports of rows with Philip Hammond, the chancellor.

In the Daily Telegraph interview, Timothy downplayed those accusations, saying: “We probably didn’t communicate as well as we could have done, directly with the public and the media, and probably to a certain extent around Whitehall.”

He claimed reports that May had intended to sack Hammond after the election were wrong and maintained there has been “no rift” between the pair, just a “businesslike” relationship.

Timothy did not explicitly blame anyone else for the presentation of May at the front and centre of the campaign but hinted this was the influence of outside adviser Sir Lynton Crosby, rather than the internal Downing Street team.

“Our early instinct when we were thinking about the election was to have a more traditional campaign: daily press conferences, more policy content – certainly not make it a semi-presidential campaign,” he said.

“And we didn’t do those things because the advice was about playing to strengths, and to be perfectly honest I didn’t really challenge that. I was in a position to change this and I didn’t. With hindsight obviously we would have done it differently. The ‘strong and stable’ slogan wasn’t necessarily a problem, but looking back we would have been much better off with a message showing we understood the need for change, and we were the people capable of delivering it.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason Deputy political editor, for The Guardian on Friday 4th August 2017 23.33 Europe/London

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