Tomorrow Theresa May steps down as Conservative leader, officially starting the contest to decide her successor.

She has clearly faced a challenging three years – yet so many of her woes have been self-inflicted.

I had hoped that she would try to bring the country together after the division of the 2016 EU referendum.

But rather than working across Parliament to build a deal that represented a compromise and could command broad support, she simply drove MPs further apart through her divisive approach.

Even after the Tories lost their majority in the snap 2017 General Election, rather than facing reality, Theresa May acted like nothing had changed. She ploughed on regardless and tried to force through her botched EU deal that would bring an end to her time in office.

And beyond Brexit, Theresa May failed to tackle the ‘burning injustices’ that she spoke of when entering Downing Street – with child poverty reaching shamefully high levels on her watch.

Yet I fear that what follows could be even worse.

Right now we see the Tories putting party before country, as leadership candidates make dangerous promises of delivering an extreme, no-deal Brexit.

Make no mistake – this was not on the ballot paper in 2016. We were told that reaching agreement with the EU would be easy – crashing out without a deal was never put forward as a serious option by Leave campaigners.

The reality is this cliff-edge Brexit risks destroying jobs and living standards in Sunderland and the north east.

New trade deals won’t replace the ones we’ll lose by crashing out. And the Tories’ fantasy US free-trade deal risks threatening our treasured NHS, which Donald Trump is already eyeing up in future talks.

As the Tories squabble amongst themselves, the issues that really matter to us all are being drowned out once again.

While we’ve heard some candidates promise to invest in schools and put more police back on our streets, this is simply a response to problems their own government created.

They have all supported the devastating austerity that has blighted communities like ours over the last nine years.

And it’s their government that has neglected the crisis in social care, overseen the scandalous rollout of Universal Credit, and has done nothing to end the shame of in-work poverty.

We should be under no illusion, the next Tory leader could be even worse than the last – and we in the north east deserve so much better than that.

Read the original article on the Sunderland Echo here.

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