May to fill Cameron gap – becoming UK’s 54th Prime Minister, second female

The post-Brexit political comedy show looks like it has finally come to an end. This after Andrea Leadsom pulled out of the running to lead the Conservative Party earlier, following David Cameron’s resignation last month. The sole survivor is Theresa May, who still has to go through the motions but is set to become the United Kingdom’s 54th Prime Minister, and the second female since Margaret Thatcher. May’s first task, will be the one that got her into the position in the first place, how to manage the UK’s future outside of the EU. – Stuart Lowman

by Robert Hutton and Alex Morales

(Bloomberg) — Home Secretary Theresa May is on course to succeed David Cameron as U.K. prime minister after her only opponent in the Tory leadership race, Andrea Leadsom, dropped out. She will be the 54th person to fill the post.

May, 59, will become the country’s second woman prime minister, after Margaret Thatcher. There are no formal rules for the succession of British prime ministers, but Cameron will have to visit Queen Elizabeth II to resign, after which the monarch will invite May, as leader of the party with a majority in the House of Commons, to form a government.

Britain's Home Secretary, Theresa May, leaves after attending a cabinet meeting at Number 10 Downing Street in London, Britain July 5, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Britain’s Home Secretary, Theresa May, leaves after attending a cabinet meeting at Number 10 Downing Street in London, Britain July 5, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

The latest in three weeks of political shocks saw the inexperienced Leadsom accept her leadership campaign had failed, after a weekend during which she struggled under the glare of media attention. It comes after a period of unprecedented turbulence which saw the country’s foreign policy radically changed, the prime minister quit, his likely successors drop out, and the leader of the opposition urged to resign. An hour before Leadsom quit, May committed herself to taking the U.K. out of the European Union.

“Our country needs strong, proven leadership, to steer us through this time of economic and political uncertainty, and to negotiate the best deal for Britain as we leave the EU and forge a new role for ourselves in the world,” May, who campaigned to remain in the bloc, said in a speech. “Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it.”

While May is likely to take office swiftly, it’s more probable that it will be a matter of days, rather than hours. Practically, Cameron, his wife and their three children need to pack up their belongings in 10 Downing Street. Meanwhile, the Queen is on vacation in Scotland. When Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair in 2007, Brown became Labour leader on a Sunday, and Blair resigned as prime minister the following Wednesday.

“The economy doesn’t need uncertainty, it needs certainty, so in the next few days we should move to put her in the position of prime minister so she can lead the country and provide unity,” Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne told MSNBC in an interview in New York on Monday. “I’ve worked with her for six years, she’s got the steel, the determination to do the job.”

Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservative Party’s 1922 Committee, which is in charge of the leadership contest, told reporters May still needs formal confirmation to be named party leader. He also ruled out running a new election among Tory lawmakers.

Leadsom, who has only been in Parliament since 2010 and isn’t in the cabinet, quit just after midday, saying her support among Tory lawmakers was not sufficient to lead a “strong and stable” government. Her decision came after she had to apologize for telling The Times newspaper that she would be a better prime minister than May because she has children. She also faced questions over claims in her resume about her previous career in finance.

In her speech on Monday, May set out a pitch for leadership that moved to occupy the center ground, recognizing that many voters feel insecure and left behind by globalization. She promised crackdowns on high corporate pay and tax avoidance.

While she didn’t mention it in her speech, May said when she announced her bid to succeed Cameron last month that she would wait at least until next year to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which would start two years of negotiations to leave the bloc.

May has opposed the idea of an early general election, but may find herself under pressure to call one, given the dramatic shifts in British politics since Cameron won last year. Labour and the Liberal Democrats both issued statements calling for an election, and the bookmaker Ladbrokes slashed the odds on one being held this year.