United Kingdom: Theresa May to become Prime Minister

United Kingdom: Theresa May to become Prime Minister
Theresa May becomes prime minister on 2016 July 13, succeeding David Cameron in Downing Street

Theresa May

BBC News

Theresa May will barely have time to unpack her bags before she will face her first test – who she will choose to sit alongside her around the Cabinet table. The most important appointments – chancellor, foreign secretary and home secretary – are expected to be announced on Wednesday with a fuller government reshuffle following over the next couple of days.

Mrs May will be expected to reward allies who supported her in the leadership contest but also maintain a balance between Brexiteers and Remainers in the Cabinet. She will need to find room for some new faces while also maintaining a core of experience.

Mrs May has floated the idea of a new government department to take day-to-day charge of negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU – to be headed by someone who campaigned to leave in the referendum. Chris Grayling, a prominent Brexiteer who supported her leadership bid, acting as her campaign manager, has been touted as a possible candidate for this role. Liam Fox, another Leave supporter who got behind Mrs May, after his own leadership bid failed, will also have hopes of a top job.

Brexiteers would also be keen to see Andrea Leadsom rewarded with a prominent role, after giving way to Mrs May in the leadership contest, although the crucial role of chancellor could go to someone with more experience. May ally and Remainer Philip Hammond, currently foreign secretary, is seen by some as the favourite.

Protocol dictates that a new prime minister will get messages of support and congratulations from fellow leaders across the UK and the world. She will only be able to return some of these calls at this stage but the initial conversations she has will be more than mere niceties.

Mrs May will want to get off on the right foot, particularly in her dealings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande ahead of years of what will be hard-fought negotiations over the UK’s divorce from the EU.

Theresa May’s diary

  • Wednesday 13 July: Theresa May will officially become prime minister after David Cameron tenders his resignation and Mrs May is formally asked to form a government by the Queen
  • Thursday 15-16 July: Cabinet and ministerial reshuffle expected. Who will get the big jobs?
  • Tuesday 19 July: She is expected to chair her first cabinet meeting
  • Wednesday 20 July: She will make her debut at Prime Minister’s Questions up against Jeremy Corbyn
  • 4-5 September: She will attend the G7 summit in China, expected to be her first major international conference
  • 1 October: The prime minister will celebrate her 60th birthday
  • 5 October: She will deliver her first leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference
  • 20 October: The first EU Council meeting of May’s leadership in Brussels
  • November: The chancellor’s Autumn Statement

And then there will also be the symbolically huge moment of her first conversation with US President Barack Obama.

Although Mr Obama only has seven months left in the White House, Mrs May will want to create an immediate impression on him by emphasising the strength of the “special relationship” and addressing US concerns about the implications of the UK’s Brexit vote on the UK’s international defence and security commitments.

She has said she will not trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which would formally take Britain out of the EU after up to two years of negotiations, before the end of 2016.

She is thought to want informal talks with other EU leaders first.

The next EU Council meeting is not scheduled to take place until 20 October, which may buy her some breathing space, as she sets up a negotiating team and establishes some “red lines” on issues such as immigration and access to the single market before official exit talks begin.

But other EU leaders are reluctant to allow Britain to dictate the terms and pace of the country’s exit and Mrs May will be under pressure to trigger Article 50 as soon as possible. She will also be under pressure from some in her own party to get on with it, amid fears of backsliding on her commitment to get the UK out of the EU.

A snap general election?
Theresa May dismissed calls for a snap general election after David Cameron’s exit, saying the Conservatives won a majority at the 2015 general election and her job is to continue with the work of her predecessor while pursuing fresh economic and social ideas.

As it stands, current rules mean the UK is not scheduled to go to the polls again until May 2020 but, as the last few weeks have proved, things can change rapidly in politics. Will Mrs May want to wait to go to the country in four years on the basis of the Brexit deal she has struck or will she seek a fresh mandate earlier?

Hanging over her will be the spectre of former Labour PM Gordon Brown, who also entered Number 10 without winning a general election or a vote of party members, and who torpedoed his chances of winning a mandate of his own with his will-he/won’t-he wobbling over a snap election.
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Video: Theresa May: First speech as Prime Minister

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