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What will Prime Minister Theresa May mean for Britain and the Conservatives?

What will Prime Minister Theresa May mean for Britain and the Conservatives?

Theresa May

Theresa May. Image courtesy of the Home Office

On Wednesday 13th July, Theresa May will become Britain’s second female Prime Minister. After an intense yet short campaign, energy minister and Brexit campaigner Andrea Leadsom, Home Secretary Theresa May’s last opponent in the Conservative leadership contest, has withdrawn her candidacy after controversial comments on motherhood highlighted her inexperience. Following Leadom’s withdrawal, David Cameron announced that he would tender his resignation to the Queen tomorrow, and Theresa May would become PM straight after.

Theresa May, in contrast to Leadsom, was billed as the experienced candidate in the leadership contest.  An MP for almost twenty years, she became the Party’s first female chairman in 2002. In 2010 she became Home Secretary, making her one of the longest serving Home Secretaries in British history and the most senior female in the Conservative Party, singling her out as a potential future leader.

As a politician, May has been careful to distance herself from the old Etonian men’s club that has surrounded the likes of Cameron, Osborne and Johnson. In short, she has sought to make herself an alternative to the traditional political elite. She has been a cautious campaigner, not favouring loud statements which characterised her campaigning (or lack thereof) for the Remain campaign.

She is known to be one of the most hardworking cabinet ministers, and there have been doubts over her ability to delegate work; something which is difficult as Home Secretary but cannot be sustained as Prime Minister. She has also been accused of hiding behind her special advisors which came to the forefront during her very public head to head with Michael Gove in 2014. She has, however, enjoyed surges in popularity, particularly following the deportation of radical cleric Abu Qatada, something which previous Home Secretaries had been unable to achieve. She has been known for taking a tough line on immigration, something which can be expected to continue in the wake of Brexit.

She is known for being “bloody difficult”, with a reputation for being a fierce negotiator, however, perhaps this is just what Britain needs when heading into Brexit talks. Indeed her background in finance (underplayed in the leadership contest) will perhaps help her combat the economic worries that will arise with Brexit negotiations.

As Prime Minister, Theresa May will also be able to reunite the Conservative Party. After a bitter split between the Leave and Remain camps, the Tories appears to be desperate to avoid the current instability that is engulfing the Labour Party. Despite having campaigned for the losing Remain camp, May enjoyed strong cross-party support, gaining 199 votes in last wee

Andrea Leadsom

Andrea Leadsom. Photo courtesy of Policy Exchange on Flickr.

k’s MP ballot, compared to Angela Leadsom’s 84. In her withdrawal speech, Leadsom emphasised Britain’s need for a strong and stable government, something which infighting amongst the party during a prolonged leadership campaign would prevent.

Furthermore, the speed of her selection as Party Leader means that Cameron will not be a lame-duck Prime Minister until September. This is a positive move, particularly for business, as drawing out the process would only increase uncertainty surrounding Britain’s EU exit and delay the recovery Britain needs to make following such a divisive vote.

Most significantly Theresa May has stressed her objective to re-establish trust in politics. The Brexit result was a real kick for the political establishment. The people of Britain voted against a political elite that they felt had failed them and did not represent them, with Tony Blair suggesting that the leave vote was a protest against the establishment. May appears to have heard this and understood the need to respond. Talking in Birmingham, May pledged to place the Conservative Party “at the service of ordinary working people”. In a throwback to Ed Miliband, she promised to be tough on big business, something which voters were keen to see in the last general election. She promised workers and consumers roles on company boards and strong rules protecting pay. May assured the disillusioned that firm change would come to British politics.

Finally, Theresa May has ruled out any chance of Britain remaining in the EU, putting an end to speculation by political commentators that Brexit may not happen, as the referendum was not legally binding. May has put an end to these rumours declaring that “Brexit means Brexit” and that she would not ignore the vote of the British public. Yet uncertainty surrounds what Brexit will actually mean, particularly for those EU migrants who May has claimed might not be guaranteed a right to stay, and exactly when Article 50 will be triggered, which May has said will not be before the end of 2016.

However, this will not end the period of political uncertainty in Britain, particularly in relation to calls for a snap general election. Following Leadsom’s withdrawal, Tim Farron tweeted his belief that the Conservative Party no longer has a mandate. This is particularly significant given Theresa May’s past criticisms of Gordon Brown for not calling an immediate general election after he succeeded Tony Blair, when she criticised him for the lack of a democratic mandate. However, during her leadership campaign, she said she would not call a general election, providing further stability for the country.

Only one thing is certain: despite being the ‘stability’ candidate Mrs May will certainly be thrown straight in at the deep end and will be put to the test with Brexit renegotiation and will have to act quickly to heal the rifts in the Conservative Party.

By Olivia Gass

Brits on the fence: what will clinch the Brexit referendum?

By Arvin Khanchandani


David Cameron Brexit Speech Referendum

Image courtesy of Brett Jordan,


Just two months ago, in September, 55% of the public wanted Britain to stay in the European Union, according to a poll conducted by ORB for the Independent. However, last week, the poll figures indicated that the tides are turning: currently, 52% of Brits are in favour of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. This is the first time the ORB’s survey has shown a majority for ‘Brexit’.

The momentum is clearly with the two ‘out’ campaigns – Leave.EU and Vote Leave – which have started merger negotiations to establish a single, robust campaign championing ‘Brexit’. In contrast, the dominant ‘in’ campaign – Britain Stronger in Europe – has been comparatively underfunded and criticised for focusing on the negative consequences of a potential ‘Brexit’, rather than highlighting the benefits the UK enjoys from its EU membership.

So, with ‘Brexit’ increasingly becoming a tangible reality, what will determine the outcome of the referendum?

Which model?

The main challenge for the ‘out’ campaigns is to convince the public that, in the event of ‘Brexit’, the UK will still have the access to the EU single market, while enjoying greater control over socio-political issues important to Brits, such as immigration and border control. However, these two goals are contradictory in nature as the single market encompasses all ‘four freedoms’ of goods, people, services and capital. In this context, it will be crucial for the ‘out’ campaign to present a coherent message about what relationship they envisage Britain having with the EU if it decides to leave.

A possible option would be to follow European Economic Area (EEA) members – Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway – who remain outside the EU but participate in the EU internal market. This, however, comes at a price as they are required to adopt all EU legislation without having a say in shaping it.

British Eurosceptics largely seem to prefer the Swiss ‘à la carte’ model which is based on a series of bilateral agreements with the EU. This means that Switzerland has access to only selected parts of the single market and it is only in those areas that it must adopt the pertinent EU acquis. However, the EU is growing increasingly frustrated with this model. According to the Council report, it ‘is creating legal uncertainty and has become unwieldy to manage and has clearly reached its limits’. Against this backdrop, the EU might be unwilling to allow another country to follow Switzerland’s suit.

However, while Switzerland is able to negotiate free trade accords with other countries independently of the EU, it still has to subscribe to the EU freedom of movement. This has left Switzerland facing what many see as similar problems to the UK; due to high levels of immigration and limited space, many areas are lacking critical infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools and housing. The Swiss actually voted in favour of introducing quotas for all migrants in Switzerland in a referendum in February last year. However, such quotas would violate the terms of the Swiss free movement of people treaty with the EU. It is questionable whether Switzerland will be able to execute the will of its people and whether Britain would have more bargaining power if it found itself in a similar position.

The demographic war

Battle lines will also be drawn between the ‘in’ and ‘out’ campaigns when it comes to demographics. The latest ORB survey indicates that only 31% of 18-24 year-olds favour ‘Brexit’, yet the figure increases twofold in the 65+ age group, soaring to 62%. Therefore, if the ‘in’ campaign manages to coax the youth to the ballots, the result of the referendum should favour the ‘inners’. The importance of this to the ‘in’ campaign can be seen by how hard the Lords are fighting to extend the franchise to 16 year olds for the referendum.

Euro crises

External developments may also sway swing voters one way or the other in the ‘Brexit’ referendum. Currently, the EU is facing pressures on many fronts: the poor handling of the Greek crisis, the sluggish growth rate of its economy, its impotence in the face of the refugee crisis and its inability to contain the immediate terrorist threat, to name but a few. Should the EU find effective solutions to these multi-faceted challenges, the European integration project will regain its credibility and once again appear attractive in the eyes of Britons.

On the other hand, if it fails to deal with these problems, or if they are further exacerbated (for instance, by Greece leaving the Eurozone or by more terrorist attacks in European cities), the EU’s appeal will quickly diminish to the point that ‘Brexit’ becomes inevitable.


In light of the EU’s lacklustre performance in many areas crucial to the well-being of its peoples, ‘Brexit’ has ceased to be a mere political fantasy. While there are many factors to consider when predicting whether Britain will stay in or opt out of the EU, it seems most likely that the ‘status quo bias’ will ultimately decide Britain’s future. This does not mean that all is lost for the ‘Out’ Campaign – if they can consistently overshadow the ‘in’ campaign, or if the EU’s credibility is further undermined by the timing of the referendum, the public may be less opposed to change.