Theresa May, the daughter of a vicar with the reputation of a tough, no-nonsense politician, took over as Britain’s Prime Minister on Wednesday, tasked with extricating the country from the EU following the contentious June 23 referendum.
May, 59, is the second woman Prime Minister in British history after Margaret Thatcher’s tenure from 1979 to 1990.
She replaced David Cameron, whose second term in 10, Downing Street was cut short after the “Remain in EU” camp he led lost in the referendum.
Harping on the mantra of “Brexit means Brexit”, May emerged victorious in a five-cornered contest to replace Cameron. She announced the creation of a separate Brexit department to deal with two-year negotiations with Brussels under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to exit the European Union.
Making an ambitious statement outside 10, Downing Street after returning from Buckingham Palace as the prime minister, May committed herself to protect the “precious bond of the United Kingdom”, considered a challenge in the context of the Brexit vote and demands in pro-EU Scotland for another independence referendum.
Often called the ‘British Merkel’ and compared to the German chancellor, she insisted that her government will make a success of Brexit and forge a bold and positive role for Britain at the international stage.
May, who was in the Remain camp, is expected to appoint a leading light of the Brexit camp to head the department. The MP from Maidenhead was the longest serving secretary in a century in the Home Office, seen as the graveyard of political careers.
Cameron, who tendered his resignation to Queen Elizabeth at the Buckingham Palace after six years in office, was given a standing ovation at his last Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons earlier in the day.
The usually feisty session was marked by much bonhomie and wit as MPs, including Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, lauded his achievements in office. He did not respond to suggestions that he involve himself in future Brexit negotiations.
Elected the Conservative Party leader in 2005, Cameron led a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats from 2010 to 2015, and then led his party to a majority in the 2015 general election.