Theresa May muses on Liz Truss’s shelf life and Boris Johnson’s affairs as she nears the end of her time as an MP

The UK’s former prime minister was uncharacteristically effervescent at a lunch in Westminster this week

Britain’s former prime minister Theresa May often appeared burdened by the pressures of office when in Number 10 Downing Street, which she left in tears in July 2019 after succumbing to the resignation demands of Brexiteers angry at her handling of negotiations with the European Union.

Almost five years later and with just six months left in her career as an MP – she is due to retire at the next election – May cut a far lighter figure this week at a lunch in Westminster.

Seeming to enjoy herself in a freewheeling manner that often eluded her when she was prime minister, May took wry swipes at her successors Liz Truss and Boris Johnson, warned of the dangers of populist politics and recalled the time that the former US president Donald Trump famously held her by the hand in front of the world’s media when she visited Washington in 2017.

May was the star guest on Thursday at a lunch with several members of Westminster’s press gallery, which convened in the Churchill Room beneath the House of Commons. The former prime minister made sure to plug her book, The Abuse of Power, which was published last September.


She jibed at Johnson, who helped to bring her down as prime minister, by musing over which section of the bookshop would stock his upcoming memoir. “Perhaps current affairs,” she said, emphasising the final word in a thinly-veiled swipe at her chief tormentor’s reputation as a Lothario.

Johnson, who succeeded May in Downing Street, was then followed into the job by Truss, who was famously the shortest-serving UK prime minister in history with just seven weeks in office. Truss’s subsequent book, a political call to arms, was called Ten Years to Save the West. May joked it should have been called Ten Days to Save Britain and filed under sci-fi and fantasy.

She wondered if she risked going down in history as the British prime minister who needed her hand held by Trump, and then warned against the type of populist politics of which the former, and possibly next, US president was the chief global espouser. “Populism divides,” she said, warning against its corrosion of politics and populism’s “threat from within” to democracy.

“With the absolutism you see now in politics, if you’re 100 per cent with me you’re a saint, if you’re 100 per cent against me you’re a devil.” The reality, May suggested, is that political leaders need to compromise: “Not on your values, but on what you are able to do.”

She dramatically cocked an eyebrow at the suggestion, based on her decision to go against the government in a free vote this week, that she might be tempted to join the ranks of defectors from the Tory party. She also brushed off questions over whether she would like to be appointed to the House of Lords, although she didn’t deny it either. The Lords, she said, should not be seen as some sort of “retirement home”. Many in the Westminster bubble believe May will end up there soon.

May said one of the highlights of her time in office was when she hosted in Number 10 a group of British cave divers who had been involved in the rescue of a group of children from a cave in Thailand in 2018. She said the toughest part was choosing to send Britain’s military forces into action, such as her decision to order air strikes on Syria.

“Losing those three [House of Commons] votes on Brexit” was a tough time too, she said, allowing herself a wry smile at the memory of the Westminster turmoil that eventually brought her down.