Theresa May Succeeds David Cameron as Prime Minister

Britain’s home secretary moves into 10 Downing Street and immediately reshuffles the cabinet.

British prime minister Theresa May is welcomed by staff when she arrives in 10 Downing Street for the first time, July 13
British prime minister Theresa May is welcomed by staff when she arrives in 10 Downing Street for the first time, July 13 (The Prime Minister’s Office/Tom Evans)
  • Queen Elizabeth II has asked Britain’s former home secretary, Theresa May, to form a government after accepting the resignation of David Cameron.
  • May won the ruling Conservative Party’s leadership, and hence the prime ministership, by default on Monday when her only remaining rival pulled out of a leadership contest.
  • She immediately fired George Osborne, Cameron’s deputy, and replaced him as chancellor of the exchequer with Philip Hammond.
  • Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London and Cameron’s opponent in the referendum campaign about Britain’s EU membership, takes Hammond’s place at the Foreign Office.
  • May has appointed David Davis as minister for Brexit, a new cabinet position. He will presumably lead the negotiations for Britain’s removal from the European Union.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 13, 201610:49 AM

Before it became clear May would succeed him, I warned that Cameron’s resignation risked could pull the Conservative Party to the right again, away from the center ground where it has won the last two elections.

It’s not a risk in the short term, given how Labour has taken a holiday from electability under Jeremy Corbyn. But the Conservatives would be foolish to take that for granted.

May is a better candidate than Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsom were in this regard. She’s not really a liberal — so far as we know — but she is probably the best person to bridge that divide between the more reactionary Tory base in the country and the liberal, cosmopolitan wing to which the likes of Stephen Crabb, Ruth Davidson, Sajid Javid and George Osborne belong to.

They are the future of the party, as I see it (and that’s a bit of wishful thinking too), but from a liberal perspective May was the least retrograde option.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 13, 201611:48 AM

May is not expected to immediately invoke Article 50 of the EU treaty, which would trigger a two-year divorce proceeding from the bloc. She would rather want to informally test the waters for a post-Brexit deal before going there.

But European leaders want Britain to get on with it.

Earlier, we heard from Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, and the French saying they didn’t want Britain to delay.

Now Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch social democrat who chairs the meetings of eurozone finance ministers, has said much the same: “You can only start negotiating if they start the procedure.”

Chris Revell July 13, 201611:51 AM

One of the big challenges for May is who to appoint to her cabinet.

Does she retain the bulk of the legacy ministers who have served David Cameron? How does she balance the delicate remain and leave members of the party? Will we see the most female-populated cabinet in history and, if so, who will make way and who will be promoted?

The biggest talking point has been about a potential shift away from the so-called Notting Hill Tories of George Osborne, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. While this would allow the new prime minister to stamp her authority on the cabinet, it may prove detrimental to her apparent desire to maintain stability and some form of continuity.

While Osborne’s reputation has taken a battering over his Brexit “scaremongering” and also with yesterday’s revelations about his writings to Ben Bernanke, former chairman of the American Federal Reserve, during the HSBC probe, he is undoubtedly an effective and respected politician. Prior to the referendum there was speculation that David Cameron was planning to swap Osborne with the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, and this could well be the case.

Michael Gove has tarnished his reputation with his Machiavellian maneuvering during the leadership campaign, however his apparent passion for his work at the Ministry of Justice suggests he may retain his place. Gove, too, is a competent and capable politician, regardless of the thoughts of the wider public who regard him with some animosity from his time at the Department for Education.

Lastly, Boris Johnson. Popular both inside and outside the Conservative Party prior to his leading role in the Brexit campaign, Johnson proved his credentials during his tenure as mayor of London but has never cut his teeth in a cabinet position, serving in the shadow cabinet under Michael Howard and David Cameron. Would May give him the chance to prove himself as a politician?

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 13, 201612:01 PM

As Chris writes, the speculation is now about May’s cabinet and I think he’s right she will retain heavyweights like Hammond and Osborne. For the sake of inspiring confidence and also to keep the peace in the Conservative Party.

She will have to bring in an ardent Brexiteer. I don’t think Johnson is a viable contender. Setting aside my own doubts about his competence, it doesn’t make sense to me to bring a potential rival into cabinet. Better to keep him on the back benches where he is no threat.

The Times reported this morning that May is looking at Chris Grayling, leader of the House of Commons, and Liam Fox, the former defense secretary, as potential “Brexit” ministers. Both would satisfy the Euroskeptic right and neither is a threat.

The Times also said May is expected to give one of the three most important cabinet posts — chancellor, home or foreign secretary, to Amber Rudd, the energy secretary. She is more of a liberal and a “Cameroon” and someone who, like Stephen Crabb, might be a leadership contender one day.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 13, 201612:13 PM

Cameron is doing his final Prime Minister’s Questions. Lawmakers, including Jeremy Corbyn, are paying tribute to his service, but the discussion quickly turns more political: Corbyn talking about homelessness, unemployment, etc., Cameron mocking Labour for still deciding on the rules of their leadership election while the Conservatives concluded theirs in a matter of days.

Corbyn does get a funny line in about May’s remark a couple of days about “unscrupulous bosses”.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 13, 201612:28 PM

The SNP isn’t happy. In the coming weeks, a May-led Conservative Party will likely vote to renew Britain’s nuclear deterrent and keep the submarines based in Scotland — against the wishes of the Scottish nationalists.

Next, Scotland will be taken out of the EU against its will. Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader and Scottish first minister, has already raised the possibility of a second independence referendum. Unless May manages to negotiate a sort of associate membership that keeps virtually all of the benefits of EU membership (full access to the single market, free movement of people) such a referendum seems inevitable and this time Scots may very decide to leave the United Kingdom in order to stay or get back in the EU.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 13, 201612:57 PM

In his final words as prime minister, Cameron says he will be willing his colleagues on from the back benches and implores them to be proud of the work they do:

You can achieve a lot of things in politics… and that in the end, the public service, the national interest, that is what it’s all about. Nothing is really impossible if you put your mind to it.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 13, 20161:04 PM

Vernon Bogdanor argues in the Financial Times that history will be kinder to Cameron than commentators are today.

Cameron’s legacy will be as a teacher of a generous and civilized Conservatism, which attracted the support of center and center-left voters. It was these voters who last year gave the Conservatives their first overall majority since 1992. It is a legacy which Theresa May, judging from her speech on Monday, with its emphasis on a socially responsible Conservatism, seems determined to continue.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 13, 20164:57 PM

David Cameron and his family have left 10 Downing Street and made their way to Buckingham Palace, where he will inform the queen of his resignation.

Theresa May is expected at the palace in about half an hour, where the monarch will ask her to form a government.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 13, 20165:27 PM
HMS Victorious arrives at Her Majesty's Naval Base Devonport, January 16, 2005
HMS Victorious arrives at Her Majesty’s Naval Base Devonport, January 16, 2005 (MoD/Lee Durant)

One of the first things Theresa May will have to decide as prime minister is how to respond to a nuclear attack.

Upon entering 10 Downing Street, the chief of defense staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, and the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, will explain to her the procedure of launching Trident, Britain’s nuclear system.

Next she will have to name two “nuclear deputies”: cabinet ministers to whom the authority to launch Trident will devolve if she is herself killed in an attack.

The third step is writing a letter to each of the four commanders of the submarines carrying Trident, one of which is always at sea. The letters will be sealed and would only be opened in case the whole government is wiped out. They contain May’s final instructions on whether or not to launch the missiles.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 13, 20165:57 PM

May is this queen thirteenth prime minister. Elizabeth came to the throne in 1952 — four years before Theresa May was born — and surpassed Queen Victoria as the United Kingdom’s longest-reigning monarch in 2015.

Steve Keller Steve Keller July 13, 20166:21 PM

What’s striking to me is the contrast between what Theresa May represents in terms of a rightward turn for Britain as a whole and London’s leftward turn as represented by the election of Sadiq Khan as mayor.

Liberals who were quite happy to see Khan elected are scratching their heads at Brexit and the political fallout.

This is a somewhat similar parallel to my own state of New York, where Mayor Bill de Blasio is considered to be further to the left than Governor Andrew Cuomo. Both are comparable in terms of non-New York clout, but Cuomo remains the boss within the state.

This speaks to the persistence of the urban-rural divide and is a stark reminder that cities are not the be-all-end-all of broader politics. London is not Britain.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 13, 20166:24 PM

In her first speech as prime minister, Theresa May promises to govern in the same one-nation spirit as David Cameron did.

She recognizes that there is disparity in Britain. “I know that sometimes life can be a struggle,” she says, and promises to govern in the interest of hard-working families as opposed to the “privileged few”.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 13, 20167:52 PM
British foreign secretary Philip Hammond in Helsinki, Finland, January 8, 2015
British foreign secretary Philip Hammond in Helsinki, Finland, January 8, 2015 (Finnish Government/Laura Kotila)

Theresa May is wasting no time to put her mark on the cabinet: George Osborne, Cameron’s most important ally and the face of liberal, mostly urban, cosmopolitan wing of the party that desperately wanted Britain to stay in the EU, is out. Philip Hammond, until now the foreign secretary, takes his place.

Hammond is more right-wing. He was one of four ministers in 2013 who did not support legalizing gay marriage, for example.

Moving Osborne out of the chancellorship makes sense. It’s the most powerful position after the prime minister’s and after the destabilizing Blair-Brown relationship under the last Labour government, it seems only wise to put an unassuming ally in the position rather than someone who might still have leadership ambitions of his own.

Sacking Osborne altogether could be a mistake, though, for the reason that he is representative of a whole wing of the party. May would make up for it by elevating Amber Rudd — perhaps her successor at the Home Office? — and either promoting or at least keeping Stephen Crabb and Sajid Javid. But it’s still a risk.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 13, 20167:53 PM

Boris Johnson is going to be foreign secretary.


Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 13, 20168:01 PM

I don’t see the rationale for putting Johnson in the cabinet, certainly not in a high-profile position like foreign secretary. May owes him nothing and he can only damage her and the country.

Johnson bears much responsibility for the turmoil the Conservative Party and is not, not to mention the United Kingdom. He joined the leave campaign despite never expressing support for taking Britain out of the EU in the past. It was quite transparently a way for him to advance his political career. When the gamble backfired — he had expected the remain side to prevail and then press his case as a graceful loser — he rightly bowed out.

Johnson has no credibility on the continent. I read that one lawmaker told the BBC the former mayor could “work his charm with European leaders” in Britain’s exit negotiations. Which is a joke. Nobody in Brussels is charmed by Johnson. A terrible choice on May’s part. Combined with the decision to sack Osborne, she’s not off to a good start.

Although Amber Rudd is, as I expected, the next home secretary. That does look like a good choice.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 13, 20168:23 PM

David Davis, a former Conservative Party chairman and leadership contender, is appointed Brexit minister, a new cabinet post.

Davis is a social conservative but also something of a libertarian. He opposed the introduction of identity cards, for example, as well as extending the maximum detention of terror suspects without charge from 28 to 42 days.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 13, 20169:28 PM

If Nigel Farage is happy about May’s cabinet choices, something must be wrong.

The UKIP leader writes on Twitter he’s optimistic now that David Davis and Liam Fox are back.

Fox is a former defense minister disgraced by an expenses scandal and cronyism who has — incredibly — remained a relevant political figure.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 13, 201610:52 PM

Stephen Bush thinks he understands why May made Johnson her foreign secretary. The New Statesman journalist writes that the job keeps Johnson “out of the country, unable to sustain a rebel following in the parliamentary party, and, crucially, makes the Brexiteers responsible for the failures of Brexit.”

Perhaps. But Bush also recognizes that the former mayor is likely to cause the occasional embarrassment. Check out this from the The Atlantic for an overview of the foreign leaders he’s insulted already.

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