‘Boris Johnson would demean our country’ - Norman Lamb reveals his choice for prime minister
- Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC
Norfolk MP, Sir Norman Lamb, who has been knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours, spoke to Jessica Frank-Keyes about the Tory leadership hopefuls and why Chuka Umunna is welcome in the Lib Dems...
Sir Norman Lamb has slammed Tory leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson for his lack of "respect and integrity" as he backed foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt for the top job.
Sir Norman, 61, who has served as an MP in his North Norfolk constituency for 18 years, criticised the former Mayor of London and said his victory in the race to replace Theresa May would "demean our country".
He said his party had "benefited considerably [in the European elections]" but added: "I'm uneasy because as a result of this standoff we're more likely to end up with Boris Johnson.
"When I think about the things I stand for - respect, integrity, not being abusive of the other side, or other countries, or groups of people in our society - nothing of what I stand for is represented by Boris Johnson.
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"It would demean our country if he was prime minister."
He added: "I worked with Jeremy Hunt for two and a half years in the department of health.
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"We had a very good working relationship. He respected my position - I was determined to fight for mental health and he didn't stand in my way.
"It was a relationship of trust. I ask myself who has represented this country better on the world stage and Jeremy Hunt has adopted a much more respectful and statesmanlike tone.
"My preference would be him."
But the former lawyer and Norwich city councillor, who first won his seat with a majority of just 483 votes, was less forthcoming on matters relating to his own party, saying he was "standing back" from the current Lib Dem leadership battle, and would not say whether he would stand in another general election.
"I haven't made a final decision on that yet," he said.
"I'm overjoyed by having been an MP for 18 years and we're in a stronger position than we have ever been."
But he added: "I got quite frustrated with my side as well.
"There needed to be more of an effort to bring the country together again."
And his self-described annoyance over "the whole Brexit issue" fed into his reluctance to endorse either Ed Davey or Jo Swinson as party leader.
He said: "I haven't declared a choice between the two of them.
"I'm standing back from it because I've felt uneasy with where the party is at and the two of them have taken a very different position to me.
"It's very hard for me to positively endorse someone who I disagree with on this issue."
However, Sir Norman said he "welcomed" the former Change UK and Labour MP Chuka Umunna into the fold, and added: "There's a lot we have in common.
"We don't agree on everything but he's an intelligent, thoughtful sort of person.
"What does he really stand for? Every party is a coalition of different views."
And while the Streatham MP has faced questions over tweets claiming his now-party could not be trusted over issues including breaking promises on tuition fees and backing the coalition's cuts, Sir Norman insisted he would focus on Mr Umunna's values, over his past statements.
"People say things, and sometimes they live to regret them," he said.
"That might be the case for him, but look at what people stand for and their values."
The Leicester-educated politician, who was inspired to go into politics after working in the office of a Labour MP after university, previously blamed his 2018 stroke on long working hours and not enough sleep, added that slowing down was "still a work in progress".
"I think I'm doing slightly fewer hours, but when I leave the office in London there's not many people there," the father-of-two admitted.
"I walk home at 10pm so it is still pretty intense.
"If you do the job properly it has a massive impact on you and your family - it can be quite a sacrifice."
But his hard work appears to have paid off among his parliamentary colleagues, with support from MPs "across the political spectrum" coming in for his knighthood.
He said: "I'm overwhelmed by the responses of people.
"There was a slight hesitation [whether to accept].
"There are an awful lot of people who do amazing things and never get recognised.
"But it didn't take me long to decide I wanted to accept it and I felt very honoured and fortunate."
He added: "George Freeman, Conservative MP in Mid Norfolk texted me and said how delighted he was and Liz Kendall [Labour MP for Leicester West] sent a very kind message."