Tory candidate James Cracknell has suggested that Britain could rejoin the European Union in a generation.
The double Olympic rowing gold medalist said he has no appetite to reverse Brexit for the time being, but predicted that the UK could re-enter the bloc when the young adults who overwhelmingly backed Remain become older.
In his first interview since being selected to stand for the Conservatives in Colchester, Mr Cracknell said he would approach the contest like the Olympics.
He suggested there was little point in obsessing over the Tories’ polling in the meantime, as “anyone making a prediction a year out is pretty stupid”.
“We’re not going to win on polling day, it’s going to be what we do in autumn, spring, summer, autumn next year – that’s when we’re going to win it,” he said.
The 51-year-old told The Telegraph he has been a Conservative all his life because “you ought to be in a country where you are allowed to set your own limits”.
He was known to be eyeing up a parliamentary seat, although he had initially favoured Henley-on-Thames – one of Boris Johnson’s old constituencies – where he has rowed since he was 18.
Mr Cracknell said he liked the “attitude” of the people in Colchester, but acknowledged he does not have extensive links with the area.
“I’m not going to exaggerate my local connections, so the first thing I need to do is talk to the councillors there, as well to really get my head around the local issues,” he said.
Mr Cracknell backed Remain in 2016 and has since been critical of Brexit, saying it “made us look inward and be a little Britain”.
Speaking after his selection, he made clear he would not support a bid to rejoin the bloc now, insisting the UK must “make the most” of its freedoms, but suggested there may be a case for a return in the future.
Asked for his views on rejoining, he said: “If we went back now to the negotiating table, what terms are we going to get?
“If that was ever to happen, it would be when the 18-25s, 18-30s that voted predominantly Remain become older… a lot of people over 50 voted predominantly for Brexit... maybe in a generation’s time. But no, we made the decision, we have to back ourselves.”
Mr Cracknell said he was a big fan of Rishi Sunak because he trusts him to do the “right thing”. He backed the Prime Minister’s decision to make Britain’s net zero ambitions more affordable for hard-pressed households, warning that people are currently more concerned about the cost of living than carbon emissions.
“Net zero by 2050 is still the target but to get there you are going to have to really bring the country with you,” he said.
“And so there’s been subtle changes so that actually… what most people go to bed thinking, they’re more worried about the cost of living, paying the mortgage, paying the bills, than they are about carbon emissions right now.
“For everyone living with the cost of living, you’re not going to put getting a new heat pump as the priority in your life when you’ve actually got to pay the mortgage and buy the food.”
Mr Cracknell said he wants to be an MP because he has a “very good life” and is keen to give something back.
He is best known for winning gold at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, but said his selection as Tory candidate for Colchester was “much more emotional”.
Paul Dundas, the leader of the Colchester Tories, said he was the “clear choice” of local members, adding: “I think he will be a fantastic candidate and a great MP for Colchester. He will win because he is a guy who doesn’t do losing.”