- Theresa May
- Early life and education
- Early career
- Early political career
- Home Secretary
- Minister for Women and Equalities
- Prime Minister Leadership election
- Political positions
- Personal life
- Activism and awards
|The Right Honourable
|Prime Minister of the United Kingdom|
13 July 2016
|Preceded by||David Cameron|
|Leader of the Conservative Party|
11 July 2016
|Preceded by||David Cameron|
12 May 2010 – 13 July 2016
|Prime Minister||David Cameron|
|Preceded by||Alan Johnson|
|Succeeded by||Amber Rudd|
|Minister for Women and Equalities|
12 May 2010 – 4 September 2012
|Prime Minister||David Cameron|
|Preceded by||Harriet Harman (Women and Equality)|
|Succeeded by||Maria Miller|
|Chairman of the Conservative Party|
23 July 2002 – 6 November 2003
|Leader||Iain Duncan Smith|
|Preceded by||David Davis|
|Succeeded by||Liam Fox
The Lord Saatchi
|Member of Parliament
1 May 1997
|Preceded by||Constituency created|
|united kingdom prime minister, uk|
|Born||Theresa Mary Brasier
(1956-10-01) 1 October 1956
Eastbourne, England, UK
|Spouse(s)||Philip May (m. 1980)|
Zaidee Mary Barnes
|Residence||10 Downing Street|
|Alma mater||St Hugh’s College, Oxford|
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Incumbent
Theresa Mary May (/təˈriːzə ˈmeɪ/, née Brasier /ˈbreɪʒər/; born 1 October 1956) is a British politician who has served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party since 2016, the second woman to hold both positions, the first being Margaret Thatcher. She has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Maidenhead since 1997. Ideologically, she identifies herself as a one-nation conservative.
The daughter of Zaidee Brasier (née Barnes) and Hubert Brasier, a vicar, May grew up in Oxfordshire. From 1977 until 1983, she worked for the Bank of England, and from 1985 until 1997 at the Association for Payment Clearing Services, also serving as a councillor for Durnsford in Merton. After unsuccessful attempts to be elected to the House of Commons in 1992 and 1994, she was elected as the MP for Maidenhead in the 1997 general election. From 1999 to 2010, May held a number of roles in the Shadow Cabinets of William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard, and David Cameron, including Shadow Transport Secretary and Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary. She was also Chairman of the Conservative Party from 2002 to 2003.
After the formation of a coalition government following the 2010 general election, May was appointed Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, giving up the latter role in 2012. Reappointed after the Conservative victory in the 2015 general election, she went on to become the longest-serving Home Secretary since James Chuter Ede over 60 years previously. During her tenure she pursued reform of the Police Federation, implemented a harder line on drugs policy including the banning of khat, oversaw the introduction of elected Police and Crime Commissioners, the deportation of Abu Qatada, the creation of the National Crime Agency and brought in additional restrictions on immigration.
Following Cameron’s resignation, May won an unchallenged leadership election in July 2016, and was appointed Prime Minister. As Prime Minister, May began the process of withdrawing the UK from the European Union, triggering Article 50 in March 2017. In April 2017, May announced an early general election in June, with the aim of strengthening her hand in Brexit negotiations. This resulted in a hung parliament, in which the number of Conservative seats fell from 330 to 317, prompting her to broker a confidence and supply deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to support May’s minority government.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Early career
- 3 Early political career
- 4 Home Secretary
- 4.1 Police and crime
- 4.1.1 Anti-social behaviour
- 4.1.2 Drug policy
- 4.2 Immigration
- 4.2.1 Family migration
- 4.2.2 Deportation decisions
- 4.2.3 Abu Qatada deportation
- 4.2.4 “Go Home” advertisements
- 4.2.5 Passport backlog
- 4.3 Birmingham schools row
- 4.1 Police and crime
- 5 Minister for Women and Equalities
- 6 Prime Minister
- 6.1 Leadership election
- 6.2 Appointment
- 6.3 Cabinet changes
- 6.4 First term
- 6.5 2017 general election
- 6.6 Public opinion
- 7 Political positions
- 7.1 Same-sex relationships
- 7.2 Brexit
- 8 Personal life
- 9 Activism and awards
Early life and education
Born on 1 October 1956 in Eastbourne, Sussex, May is the only child of Zaidee Mary (née Barnes; 1928–1982) and Hubert Brasier (1917–1981). Her father was a Church of England clergyman (and an Anglo-Catholic) who was chaplain of an Eastbourne hospital. He later became vicar of Enstone with Heythrop and finally of St Mary’s at Wheatley, to the east of Oxford. May’s mother was a strong supporter of the Conservative Party.
May was educated primarily in the state sector but with a short spell at an independent Catholic school. She initially attended Heythrop Primary School, a state school in Heythrop, followed by St. Juliana’s Convent School for Girls, a Roman Catholic independent school in Begbroke, which closed in 1984.
When she was 13, May won a place at the former Holton Park Girls’ Grammar School, a state school in Wheatley. During her time as a pupil, the Oxfordshire education system was reorganised and the school became the new Wheatley Park Comprehensive School. May then attended the University of Oxford where she read geography at St Hugh’s College, graduating with a second class BA degree in 1977.
Between 1977 and 1983 May worked at the Bank of England, and from 1985 to 1997 as a financial consultant and senior advisor in International Affairs at the Association for Payment Clearing Services. She married Philip May in September 1980. Her father died in a car accident in 1981 and her mother of multiple sclerosis the following year. May later stated she was “sorry they never saw me elected as a Member of Parliament”.
May served as a councillor for Durnsford ward on the London Borough of Merton from 1986 to 1994, where she was Chairman of Education (1988–90) and Deputy Group Leader and Housing Spokesman (1992–94). In the 1992 general election May stood unsuccessfully for the safe Labour seat of North West Durham, coming second to incumbent MP Hilary Armstrong by 12,747 votes (27.6%) to 26,734 (57.8%), with future Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron coming third. May then stood at the 1994 Barking by-election, which was prompted by the death of Labour MP Jo Richardson. The seat had been continuously held by Labour since it was created in 1945 and Labour candidate Margaret Hodge was expected to win easily, which she did, with 13,704 votes (72.1%). May came a distant third with 1,976 votes (10.4%). Ahead of the 1997 general election, May was selected as the Conservative candidate for Maidenhead, a new seat which was created from parts of the seats of Windsor and Maidenhead and Wokingham. She was elected with 25,344 votes (49.8%), almost double the total of second-placed Andrew Terence Ketteringham of the Liberal Democrats, who took 13,363 votes (26.3%).
Early political career
Having entered Parliament, May became a member of William Hague’s front-bench Opposition team, as Shadow Spokesman for Schools, Disabled People and Women (1998 – June 1999). She became the first of the 1997 MPs to enter the Shadow Cabinet when in 1999 she was appointed Shadow Education and Employment Secretary. After the 2001 election the new Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith kept her in the Shadow Cabinet, moving her to the Transport portfolio.
May was appointed the first female Chairman of the Conservative Party in July 2002. During her speech at the 2002 Conservative Party Conference, she explained why, in her view, her party must change: “You know what people call us? The Nasty Party”. In 2003, she was sworn of the Privy Council and appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Transport after Michael Howard’s election as Conservative Party and Opposition Leader in November that year.
In June 2004 she was moved to become Shadow Secretary of State for the Family. Following the 2005 general election she was also made Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. David Cameron appointed her Shadow Leader of the House of Commons in December 2005 after his accession to the leadership. In January 2009, May was made Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
On 6 May 2010, May was re-elected MP for Maidenhead with an increased majority of 16,769 – 60 percent of the vote. This followed an earlier failed attempt to unseat her in 2005 as one of the Liberal Democrats’ leading “decapitation-strategy” targets.
On 12 May 2010, when May was appointed Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality by Prime Minister David Cameron as part of his first Cabinet, she became the fourth woman to hold one of the British Great Offices of State, after Margaret Thatcher (Prime Minister), Margaret Beckett (Foreign Secretary) and Jacqui Smith (Home Secretary). As Home Secretary, May was also a member of the National Security Council. She was the longest-serving Home Secretary for over 60 years, since James Chuter Ede who served over six years and two months from August 1945 to October 1951. May’s appointment as Home Secretary was somewhat unexpected, with Chris Grayling having served as shadow Home Secretary in opposition.
May’s debut as Home Secretary involved overturning several of the previous Labour government’s measures on data collection and surveillance in England and Wales. By way of a government bill which became the Identity Documents Act 2010, she brought about the abolition of the Labour government’s National Identity Card and database scheme and reformed the regulations on the retention of DNA samples for suspects and controls on the use of CCTV cameras. In May 2010, May announced the adjournment of the deportation to the United States of alleged computer hacker Gary McKinnon. She also suspended the registration scheme for carers of children and vulnerable people, with May saying that the measures were “draconian. You were assumed to be guilty until you were proven innocent, and told you were able to work with children.” On 4 August 2010, it was reported that May was scrapping the former Labour government’s proposed “go orders” scheme to protect women from domestic violence by banning abusers from the victim’s home.
In June 2010, May faced her first major national security incident as Home Secretary with the Cumbria shootings. She delivered her first major speech in the House of Commons as Home Secretary in a statement on this incident, later visiting the victims with the Prime Minister. Also in June 2010, May banned the Indian Muslim preacher Zakir Naik from entering the United Kingdom. According to The Telegraph, a Home Office official who disagreed with this decision was suspended. In late June 2010, May announced plans for a temporary cap on UK visas for non-EU migrants. The move raised concerns about the impact on the British economy.
In August 2013, May supported the detention of David Miranda, partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, under the Terrorism Act 2000, saying that critics of the Metropolitan Police action needed to “think about what they are condoning”. Lib Dem peer and former Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald accused May of an “ugly and unhelpful” attempt to implicate those who were concerned about the police action of “condoning terrorism”. The High Court subsequently acknowledged there were “indirect implications for press freedom” but ruled the detention legal.
May also championed legislation popularly dubbed the Snooper’s Charter, requiring internet and mobile service providers to keep records of internet usage, voice calls, messages and email for up to a year in case police requested access to the records while investigating a crime. The Liberal Democrats had blocked the first attempt, but after the Conservative Party obtained a majority in the 2015 general election May announced a new Draft Investigatory Powers Bill similar to the Draft Communications Data Bill, although with more limited powers and additional oversight.
Police and crime
Speaking at the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) conference in June 2010, May announced radical cuts to the Home Office budget, likely to lead to a reduction in police numbers. In July 2010, May presented the House of Commons with proposals for a fundamental review of the previous Labour government’s security and counter-terrorism legislation, including “stop and search” powers, and her intention to review the 28-day limit on detaining terrorist suspects without charge.
In July 2010, May announced a package of reforms to policing in England and Wales in the House of Commons. The previous Labour Government’s central crime agency, Soca (Serious Organised Crime Agency), was to be replaced by a new National Crime Agency. In common with the Conservative Party 2010 general election manifesto’s flagship proposal for a “Big Society” based on voluntary action, May also proposed increasing the role of civilian “reservists” for crime control. The reforms were rejected by the Opposition Labour Party.
Following the actions of some members of Black Bloc in vandalising allegedly tax-avoiding shops and businesses on the day of the March 2011 TUC march, the Home Secretary unveiled reforms curbing the right to protest, including giving police extra powers to remove masked individuals and to police social networking sites to prevent illegal protest without police consent or notification.
In July 2013, May welcomed the fact that crime had fallen by more than ten percent under the coalition government, while still being able to make savings. She said that this was partly due to the government removing red tape and scrapping targets to allow the police to concentrate on crime fighting.
In 2014, May delivered a speech to the Police Federation, in which she criticised aspects of the culture of the police force. In the speech, she said:
When you remember the list of recent revelations about police misconduct, it is not enough to mouth platitudes about “a few bad apples”. The problem might lie with a minority of officers, but it is still a significant problem, and a problem that needs to be addressed … according to one survey carried out recently, only 42% of black people from a Caribbean background trust the police. That is simply not sustainable … I will soon publish proposals to strengthen the protections available to whistleblowers in the police. I am creating a new criminal offence of police corruption. And I am determined that the use of stop and search must come down, become more targeted and lead to more arrests.
On 9 December 2010, in the wake of violent student demonstrations in central London against increases to higher-education tuition fees, May praised the actions of the police in controlling the demonstrations but was described by The Daily Telegraph as “under growing political pressure” due to her handling of the protests.
In December 2010, May declared that deployment of water cannon by police forces in mainland Britain was an operational decision which had been “resisted until now by senior police officers.” She rejected their use following the widespread rioting in summer 2011 and said: “the way we police in Britain is not through use of water cannon. The way we police in Britain is through consent of communities.” May said: “I condemn utterly the violence in Tottenham… Such disregard for public safety and property will not be tolerated, and the Metropolitan Police have my full support in restoring order.”
In the aftermath of the riots May urged the identification of as many as possible of the young criminals involved. She said: “when I was in Manchester last week, the issue was raised to me about the anonymity of juveniles who are found guilty of crimes of this sort. The Crown Prosecution Service is to order prosecutors to apply for anonymity to be lifted in any youth case they think is in the public interest. The law currently protects the identity of any suspect under the age of 18, even if they are convicted, but it also allows for an application to have such restrictions lifted, if deemed appropriate.” May added that “what I’ve asked for is that CPS guidance should go to prosecutors to say that where possible, they should be asking for the anonymity of juveniles who are found guilty of criminal activity to be lifted”.
In July 2010, May proposed to review the previous Labour Government’s anti-social behaviour legislation signalling the abolition of the “Anti-Social Behaviour Order” (ASBO). She identified the policy’s high level of failure with almost half of ASBOs breached between 2000 and 2008, leading to “fast-track” criminal convictions. May proposed a less punitive, community-based approach to tackling social disorder. May suggested that anti-social behaviour policy “must be turned on its head”, reversing the ASBO’s role as the flagship crime control policy legislation under Labour. Former Labour Home Secretaries David Blunkett (who introduced ASBOs) and Alan Johnson expressed their disapproval of the proposals.
In July 2013, May decided to ban the stimulant khat, against the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). The council reached the conclusion that there was “insufficient evidence” it caused health problems. Explaining the change in the classification May said: “The decision to bring khat under control is finely balanced and takes into account the expert scientific advice and these broader concerns”, and pointed out that the product had already been banned in the majority of other EU member states, as well as most of the G8 countries including Canada and the US. A report on khat use by the ACMD published in January 2013 had noted the product had been associated with “acute psychotic episodes”, “chronic liver disease” and family breakdown. However, it concluded that there is no risk of harm for most users, and recommended that khat remain uncontrolled due to lack of evidence for these associations.
Liberal Democrat minister Norman Baker accused May of suppressing proposals to treat rather than prosecute minor drug offenders from a report into drug policy commissioned by the Home Office. The Home Office denied that its officials had considered this as part of their strategy. Baker cited difficulties in working with May as the reason for his resignation from the Home Office in the run-up to the 2015 general election.
In 2010, May promised to bring the level of net migration down to less than 100,000. The Independent reported in February 2015, “The Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced a net flow of 298,000 migrants to the UK in the 12 months to September 2014—up from 210,000 in the previous year.” In total, 624,000 people migrated to the UK in the year ending September 2014 and 327,000 left in the same period. Statistics showed “significant increases in migration among both non-EU citizens—up 49,000 to 292,000—and EU citizens, which rose by 43,000 to 251,000.”
May rejected the European Union’s proposal of compulsory refugee quotas. She said that it was important to help people living in war-zone regions and refugee camps but “not the ones who are strong and rich enough to come to Europe”. In May 2016, The Daily Telegraph reported that she had tried to save £4m by rejecting an intelligence project to use aircraft surveillance to detect illegal immigrant boats.
In June 2012, Theresa May announced that new restrictions would be introduced to reduce the number of non-European Economic Area family migrants. The changes were mostly intended to apply to new applicants after 9 July 2012.
The newly introduced rules came into effect on 9 July 2012 allowing only those British citizens earning more than £18,600 to bring their spouses or their children to live with them in the UK. This figure would rise significantly in cases where visa applications are also made for children. They also increased the current two-year probationary period for partners to 5 years. The rules also prevent any adult and elderly dependents from settling in the UK unless they can demonstrate that, as a result of age, illness or disability, they require a level of long-term personal care that can only be provided by a relative in the UK.
The House of Lords was concerned about the immegration issue and therefore addressed the PM in the Parliament as to whether she had examined the impact on communities and families on modest incomes, but it received no direct response. The human rights group Liberty concluded that the new rules showed scant regard to the impact they would have on genuine families. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration conducted an evidence based inquiry into the impact of the rules and concluded in their report that the rules were causing very young children to be separated from their parents and could exile British citizens from the UK.
At the Conservative Party Conference in October 2011, while arguing that the Human Rights Act needed to be amended, May gave the example of a foreign national who the Courts ruled was allowed to remain in the UK, “because—and I am not making this up—he had a pet cat”. In response, the Royal Courts of Justice issued a statement, denying that this was the reason for the tribunal’s decision in that case, and stating that the real reason was that he was in a genuine relationship with a British partner, and owning a pet cat was simply one of many pieces of evidence given to show that the relationship was “genuine”. The Home Office had failed to apply its own rules for dealing with unmarried partners of people settled in the UK. Amnesty International said May’s comments only fuelled “myths and misconceptions” about the Human Rights Act and Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke subsequently called May’s comments “laughable and childlike.”
In June 2012, May was found in contempt of court by Judge Barry Cotter, and stood accused of “totally unacceptable and regrettable behaviour”, being said to have shown complete disregard for a legal agreement to free an Algerian from a UK Immigration Detention Centre. As she eventually allowed the prisoner to be freed, May avoided further sanctions including fines or imprisonment.
May responded to a Supreme Court decision in November 2013 to overturn her predecessor Jacqui Smith’s revocation of Iraqi-born terror suspect Al Jedda’s British citizenship by ordering it to be revoked for a second time, making him the first person to be stripped twice of British citizenship.
May was accused by Lord Roberts of being willing to allow someone to die “to score a political point” over the deportation of mentally ill Nigerian man Isa Muazu. According to Muazu’s solicitor, May had arranged for the asylum seeker, who was said to be “near death” after a 100-day hunger strike, to be deported by a chartered private jet. To strengthen the Home Office’s tough stance an “end of life” plan was reportedly offered to Muazu, who was one of a number of hunger strikers at the Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre.
Abu Qatada deportation
On 7 July 2013, Abu Qatada, a radical cleric arrested in 2002, was deported to Jordan after a decade-long battle that had cost the nation £1.7 million in legal fees, and numerous prior Home Secretaries had been unable to resolve. The deportation was the result of a treaty negotiated by May in April 2013, under which Jordan agreed to give Qatada a fair trial, by not using evidence that may have been obtained through torture against him.
May has frequently pointed to Qatada’s deportation as a triumph, guaranteeing in September 2013 that “he will not be returning to the UK”, and declaring in her 2016 leadership campaign announcement that she was told that she “couldn’t deport Abu Qatada” but that she “flew to Jordan and negotiated the treaty that got him out of Britain for good”. The Qatada deportation also shaped May’s views on the European Convention on Human Rights and European Court of Human Rights, saying that they had “moved the goalposts” and had a “crazy interpretation of our human rights laws”, as a result, May has since campaigned against the institutions, saying that British withdrawal from them should be considered.
“Go Home” advertisements
In August 2013, the Home Office engaged in an advertising campaign directed at illegal immigrants. The advertisements, in the form of mobile advertising hoardings on the back of lorries, told illegal immigrants to “go home or face arrest”, with an image of a person in handcuffs, and were deployed in six London boroughs with substantial ethnic minority populations. They were widely criticized as creating a hostile atmosphere for members of ethnic minority groups. The shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, described their language as being reminiscent of that used by the National Front in the 1970s. An adjudication by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said that “the claim [that 106 arrests were made last week] was misleading and had not been substantiated” was followed by the advertisements being withdrawn after being banned by the ASA.
In mid 2014, the Passport Office faced a backlog in developing processing passport applications, with around 30,000 applications hit by delays. David Cameron suggested this had come about due to the Passport Office’s receiving an “above normal” 300,000-rise in applications. It was revealed, however, that May had been warned the year before, in July 2013, that a surge of 350,000 extra applications could occur owing to the closure of processing overseas under Chancellor Osborne’s programme of cuts. Around £674,000 was paid to staff who helped clear the backlog.
Birmingham schools row
In June 2014, an inflamed public argument arose between Home Office and Education Ministers about responsibility for alleged extremism in Birmingham schools. Prime Minister David Cameron intervened to resolve the row, insisting that May sack her Special Advisor Fiona Cunningham (now Hill) for releasing on May’s website a confidential letter to May’s colleagues, and that Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, apologise to the Home Office’s head of Security and Counter-Terrorism, Charles Farr, for uncomplimentary briefings of him appearing on the front page of The Times.
Minister for Women and Equalities
May held the office of Minister for Women and Equality in parallel to her office of Home Secretary from 2010 to September 2012, when this role was taken over by Maria Miller.
May’s appointment as Minister for Women and Equality was criticised by some members of the LGBT rights movement, because she had voted against lowering the age of consent (in 1998) and against greater adoption rights for homosexuals (in 2002), though she had voted in favour of civil partnerships. May later stated, during an appearance on the BBC’s Question Time in 2010, that she had “changed her mind” on gay adoption. Writing for PinkNews in June 2010, May clarified her proposals for improving LGBT rights including measures to tackle homophobia in sport, advocating British society’s need for “cultural change”.
On 2 July 2010, May stated she would be supporting the previous Labour Government’s Anti-Discrimination Laws enshrined in the Equality Act 2010 despite having opposed it before. The Equality Act came into effect in England, Wales and Scotland on 1 October 2010. She did however announce that a clause she dubbed “Harman’s Law” which would have required public bodies to consider how they can reduce socio-economic inequalities when making decisions about spending and services would be scrapped on the grounds that it was “unworkable”.
May’s supporters included a number of Cabinet ministers, such as Amber Rudd, Chris Grayling, Justine Greening, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Fallon and Patrick McLoughlin. She won the first round of voting on 5 July, receiving support from 165 MPs, with rivals Andrea Leadsom receiving 66 votes and Michael Gove 48. After the results were announced, May said she was “pleased” and “grateful” for the support of other MPs and confirmed that she wanted to unite the party and the UK, to negotiate the “best possible deal as we leave the EU”, and to “make Britain work for everyone”. The two candidates with the fewest votes, Liam Fox and Stephen Crabb, immediately announced their support for May. May came in first place in the second ballot on 7 July with an overwhelming majority of 199 MPs, compared with 84 for Leadsom and 46 for Gove, who was eliminated. Afterwards, May stated that she was delighted with her support among MPs, and she progressed to a vote of the Conservative Party membership against Leadsom.
On 11 July, Leadsom announced her withdrawal from the leadership contest hours after May had made her first official campaign speech, saying her lack of support amongst Conservative MPs compared to May would be too great a hindrance to becoming a credible Prime Minister. As the sole remaining candidate, May was formally declared Leader of the Conservative Party that evening.
On 13 July 2016, two days after becoming Leader of the Conservative Party, May was appointed Prime Minister by Queen Elizabeth II, becoming only the second female British Prime Minister after Margaret Thatcher, and the first female British Prime Minister of the 21st century. Addressing the world’s media outside 10 Downing Street, May said that she was “honoured and humbled” to become Prime Minister. On becoming Prime Minister, May became the first woman to have held two of the Great Offices of State.
Responding to some calls for an early general election, “sources close to Mrs May” said there was no need for such an election. In a speech after her appointment, May emphasised the term “Unionist” in the name of the Conservative Party, reminding all of “the precious, precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.” By 15 July, May had travelled to Edinburgh to meet with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to reinforce the bond between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. “I’m coming here to show my commitment to preserving this special union that has endured for centuries,” she explained.
May’s first Cabinet appointment was described by Reuters as “one of the most sweeping government reshuffles for decades”, and called “a brutal cull” by The Daily Telegraph. Nine of Cameron’s ministers, including several prominent members, were sacked or resigned from their posts. The early appointments were interpreted both as an effort to reunite the Conservative Party in the wake of the UK’s vote to leave the EU and as “a shift to the right,” according to The Guardian. ITV’s Political Editor Robert Peston commented: “Her rhetoric is more left-wing than Cameron’s was, her cabinet is more right-wing than his was.” Although May had supported remaining in the EU, she appointed several of the most prominent advocates of Brexit to key Cabinet positions responsible for negotiating the United Kingdom withdrawal from the European Union, including Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, David Davis as Brexit Secretary, and Liam Fox as International Trade Secretary, the latter two being new positions. Other key appointees included Amber Rudd as Home Secretary and Philip Hammond as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The First May ministry delayed the final approval for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in July 2016, a project which May had objected to when she was Home Secretary. Her political adviser Nick Timothy wrote an article in 2015 to oppose China’s involvement in sensitive sectors. He said that the government was “selling our national security to China” without rational concerns and “the Government seems intent on ignoring the evidence and presumably the advice of the security and intelligence agencies”.
In July 2016, when George Kerevan asked her whether she would be prepared to authorise the killing of a hundred thousand innocent persons by a nuclear strike; during the “Trident debate” inside the House of Commons, May said “Yes. And I have to say to the honourable gentleman: the whole point of a deterrent is that our enemies need to know that we would be prepared to use it. Unlike some suggestions that we could have a nuclear deterrent but not actually be willing to use it, which come from the Labour Party frontbench.”
On 20 July, May attended her first Prime Minister’s Questions since taking office, then afterwards made her first overseas trip as prime minister, visiting Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. During the visit, May said that she would not trigger Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon—the process for withdrawing from the European Union—before 2017, suggesting it would take time for the UK to negotiate a “sensible and orderly departure” from the EU. However, although Merkel said it was right for the UK to “take a moment” before beginning the process, she urged May to provide more clarity on a timetable for negotiations. Shortly before travelling to Berlin, May had also announced that in the wake of the referendum, Britain would relinquish the presidency of the Council of the European Union, which passes between member states every six months on a rotation basis, and that the UK had been scheduled to hold in the second half of 2017.
May supported the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen and defended selling arms to Saudi Arabia, which is accused of committing war crimes in Yemen, insisting that Britain’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia was “helping keep people on the streets of Britain safe”.
On 21 January 2017, following the inauguration of Donald Trump as US President, the White House announced that May would meet the President on 27 January, making her the first foreign leader to meet Trump since he took office on 20 January. In a joint press conference, May indicated an interest in increased trade between the United States and the United Kingdom. She also affirmed a desire to maintain an American involvement in NATO. May was criticised by members of major parties, including her own, for refusing to condemn Trump’s Executive Order 13769, as well as for inviting Trump to a state visit with Queen Elizabeth II.
In January 2017, when it came to light that a Trident test had malfunctioned in June 2016, May refused to confirm whether she knew about the incident when she addressed parliament.
In May’s and Hammond’s 2017 budget continued government policies of freezing benefits.
2017 general election
The election was the first snap election held under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 after MPs gave May the two-thirds super-majority required.
Unveiling the Conservative manifesto in Halifax on 18 May, May promised a “mainstream government that would deliver for mainstream Britain”. It proposed to balance the budget by 2025, raise spending on the NHS by £8bn per year and on schools by £4bn per year by 2022, remove the ban on new grammar schools, means-test the winter fuel allowance, replace the state pension “triple lock” with a “double lock” and require executive pay to be approved by a vote of shareholders. It dropped the 2015 pledge to not raise income tax or national insurance contributions but maintained a commitment to freeze VAT. New sovereign wealth funds for infrastructure, rules to prevent foreign takeovers of “critical national infrastructure” and institutes of technology were also proposed. The manifesto was noted for its intervention in industry, lack of tax cuts and increased spending commitments on public services. On Brexit it committed to leaving the single market and customs union while seeking a “deep and special partnership” and promised a vote in parliament on the final agreement.
The manifesto also proposed reforms to social care in England that would raise the threshold for free care from £23,250 to £100,000 while include property in the means test and permitting deferred payment after death. After attracting substantial media attention, four days after the manifesto launch May stated that the proposed social care reforms would now include an “absolute limit” on costs in contrast to the rejection of a cap in the manifesto. She criticised the “fake” portrayal of the policy in recent days by Labour and other critics who had termed it a “dementia tax”. Evening Standard editor George Osborne called the policy change a “U-turn”. The Financial Times contrasted her “Strong and Stable” leadership slogan with her own record of nine rapid U-turns claiming she was “making a habit of retreating from policies.”
The general election in June resulted in a hung parliament, prompting her to broker a deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), involving £1 billion of additional funding for Northern Ireland.
At the beginning of 2017, nearly six months after becoming Prime Minister, a ComRes found May was the most popular UK politician with a net rating of +9 which was described as the longest honeymoon period enjoyed by any sitting Conservative Prime Minister since the end of the Second World War.
The Conservative Party had a 21-point lead over Labour in a poll released the day before May announced a snap election but this lead narrowed substantially. In mid-June, following the election, a YouGov poll showed that May’s popularity had dropped to a rating of -34.
May has identified herself with the One Nation Conservative position within her party.
Since coming into prominence as a front-bench politician, May’s public image has divided media opinion, especially from some in the traditionalist right-wing press. Commenting on May’s debut as Home Secretary, Anne Perkins of The Guardian observed that “she’ll be nobody’s stooge”, while Cristina Odone of The Daily Telegraph predicted her to be “the rising star” of the Coalition Government. Allegra Stratton, then with The Guardian, praised May as showing managerial acumen.
Describing her as a liberal Conservative, the Financial Times characterised May as a “non-ideological politician with a ruthless streak who gets on with the job”, in doing so comparing her to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Conversely, in The Independent, Rebecca Glover of the Policy Innovation Research Unit contrasted May to Boris Johnson, claiming that she was “staunchly more conservative, more anti-immigration, and more isolationist” than he.
During her leadership campaign, May said that “We need an economy that works for everyone”, pledging to crack down on executive pay by making shareholders’ votes binding rather than advisory and to put workers onto company boards (although she later claimed that the last pledge was not to be mandatory), policies that The Guardian describes as going further than the Labour Party’s 2015 general election manifesto.
After she became Prime Minister, May’s first speech espoused the left, with a promise to combat the “burning injustice” in British society and to create a union “between all of our citizens” and promising to be an advocate for the “ordinary working-class family” and not for the affluent in the UK. “The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives … When we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful, but you. When we pass new laws we’ll listen not to the mighty, but to you. When it comes to taxes we’ll prioritise not the wealthy but you.”
May has described herself as a personal supporter of fox hunting with hounds, saying that foxes’ numbers had to be controlled and that hunting them with dogs was the most humane way to do it. The Conservative manifesto for the 2017 election includes a pledge to hold a parliamentary vote to repeal the Hunting Act 2004, which prohibits a range of hunting activities.
After the Conservatives’ manifesto for the 2017 election was released, some people, including Fraser Nelson of The Spectator, called her a “red Tory”, saying that she had moved her party to the left in politics. Politico called her policies “Mayism”, saying that Mayism was “a working-class conservatism openly critical of the “cult of individualism” and globalization”.
In 1998 May voted against lowering the age of consent for homosexual acts, and was absent for the vote on the repeal of Section 28 in 2003. In May 2012, however, May expressed support for the introduction of same-sex marriage by recording a video for the Out4Marriage campaign, in which she stated “I believe if two people care for each other, if they love each other, if they want to commit to each other… then they should be able to get married and marriage should be for everyone”. On 21 May 2013, May voted in favour of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which legalised same-sex marriage in England and Wales.
May publicly stated her support for the UK remaining in the EU during the 2016 referendum campaign, but did not campaign extensively in the referendum and criticised aspects of the EU in a speech. It was speculated by political journalists that May had sought to minimise her involvement in the debate to strengthen her position as a future candidate for the Conservative party leadership. Some in David Cameron’s ministry likened May to a “submarine” on the issue of Brexit due to her perceived indifference towards the referendum and the EU.
Prior to the Brexit referendum May said privately:
I think the economic arguments are clear. I think being part of a 500-million trading bloc is significant for us. I think, as I was saying to you a little earlier, that one of the issues is that a lot of people will invest here in the UK because it is the UK in Europe. If we were not in Europe, I think there would be firms and companies who would be looking to say, do they need to develop a mainland Europe presence rather than a UK presence? So I think there are definite benefits for us in economic terms.
May also said Britain was more secure as part of the EU due to the European arrest warrant and Europe-wide information sharing among other factors. She said, “There are definitely things we can do as members of the European Union that I think keep us more safe”.
May’s public reticence during the referendum campaign resulted in tensions with David Cameron and his pro-EU team. Following the referendum and her election as party leader, May signalled that she would support full withdrawal from the EU and prioritise immigration controls over remaining within the single market, leading some to contrast this with her earlier remarks on the earlier economic arguments. She later went on to say before the 2017 UK general election that she would be willing to leave the EU without a deal, saying that “no deal is better than a bad deal. We have to be prepared to walk out”. The Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, said it was “disappointing that Theresa May lacked the political courage to warn the public as she did a bunch of bankers in private about the devastating economic effects of Brexit. More disappointing is that now she is supposedly in charge, she is blithely ignoring her own warnings and is prepared to inflict an act of monumental self-harm on the UK economy by pulling Britain out of the single market.” Phil Wilson for the ‘Open Britain’ group said, “It’s good to know that privately Theresa May thinks what many of us have been saying publicly for a long time, leaving the single market would be bad for businesses and for our economy. Now she is prime minister, Theresa May is in an unrivalled position to act on her previous concerns, starting by putting membership of the single market at the heart of her government’s negotiating position.”
On 22 September 2017, May officially made public the details of her Brexit proposal during a speech in Florence, Italy, urging the European Union to maintain a transitional period of two years after Brexit during which trade terms remain unaltered. During this period, the UK would also continue to honor its budget commitments of about 10 billion euros per year, and accept immigration from Europe. Her speech was harshly criticized by leading Eurosceptic Nigel Farage. However, the European Union’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier welcomed May’s proposal as “constructive,” but that it also “must be translated into negotiating positions to make meaningful progress.”
May has been married to Philip May, an investment banker currently employed by Capital International, since 6 September 1980; the couple have no children. It is widely believed that former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto introduced the two during their time at Oxford. May has expressed regret that she and her husband were not able to have children. The Mays are passionate hikers, and they regularly spend their holidays hiking in the Swiss Alps. May is also a cricket fan, claiming Geoffrey Boycott was one of her sporting heroes. She also likes cooking, and has said that she owns 100 cookery books. Philip has said that she “is a very good cook”.
May is a member of the Church of England and regularly worships at church on Sunday. The daughter of an Anglican priest, the Reverend Hubert Brasier, May has said that her Christian faith “is part of me. It is part of who I am and therefore how I approach things”.
May is known for a love of fashion, and in particular of distinctive shoes; she wore leopard-print shoes at her ‘Nasty Party’ speech in 2002, as well as her final Cabinet meeting as Home Secretary in 2016. On Desert Island Discs in 2014 she chose a subscription to Vogue as her luxury item. However, she has been critical of the media focusing on her fashion instead of her achievements as a politician.
May was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus of type 1 in November 2012. She is treated with daily insulin injections.
Activism and awards
Prior to and since her appointment to Government, May has actively supported a variety of campaigns on policy issues in her constituency and at the national level of politics. She has spoken at the Fawcett Society promoting the cross-party issue of gender equality. May was nominated as one of the Society’s Inspiring Women of 2006.
She is the Patron of Reading University Conservative Association, the largest political student group in Berkshire (the county of her Maidenhead constituency). In February 2013, BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour already described her as Britain’s second-most powerful woman after Queen Elizabeth II.
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