Premiership of Theresa May

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Tallinn Digital Summit. Handshake Theresa May and Jüri Ratas (37357846742) (cropped).jpg
Premiership of Theresa May
13 July 2016 – present
PremierTheresa May
Cabinet1st May ministry
2nd May ministry
PartyConservative
Election2017
AppointerElizabeth II
Seat10 Downing Street
David Cameron
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government).svg
Royal Arms of the Government
Official website

The premiership of Theresa May began on 13 July 2016, when Theresa May accepted Queen Elizabeth II's invitation to form a government. This followed the resignation of May's predecessor as Prime Minister, David Cameron, who resigned in the aftermath of the European Union membership referendum.

2016 leadership election[edit]

In a referendum held on 23 June 2016, Britain voted to withdraw from the European Union, with a result of 52% for withdrawal and 48% for remaining within the union. David Cameron, who as prime minister had campaigned to remain within the European Union, announced on 24 June 2016, immediately following the announcement of the referendum results, that he would resign from his post.[1] Following the first stages of a Conservative Party leadership election, Home Secretary Theresa May's only remaining competitor, Andrea Leadsom, withdrew from the race on 11 July 2016. Following this announcement, Cameron said that he would step down from his post on 13 July.[1] Cameron formally tendered his resignation to Queen Elizabeth II on that day, who subsequently appointed Theresa May as his successor.[2][3]

First term (2016-2017)[edit]

After being appointed by Queen Elizabeth II on 13 July 2016, May became the United Kingdom's second female Prime Minister,[4] after Margaret Thatcher, and the first female UK Prime Minister of the 21st century.[5] May told the media on 11 July 2016 that she was "honoured and humbled" to be the party leader and to become prime minister.[6]

Responding to some calls for a general election (reported by the news media) to confirm her mandate, "sources close to Mrs May" said there would be no such election, according to the BBC.[7] 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."[8] By 15 July 2016, May had travelled to Edinburgh, Scotland to meet with first minister Nicola Sturgeon, to reinforce the bond between Scotland and the rest of the country. "This visit to Scotland is my first as prime minister and I'm coming here to show my commitment to preserving this special union that has endured for centuries," she explained.[9] After the meeting at Bute House, May offered the following comment about Scotland's role in the negotiations about the UK's exit from the EU. "I'm willing to listen to options and I've been very clear with the first minister today that I want the Scottish government to be fully engaged in our discussion."[10]

In August 2016, May launched an investigation aimed at identifying and reducing racism in the public sector.[11]

May triggered Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union to leave the EU in March 2017.[12][13]

As part of the government's plan to curb childhood obesity, May took steps to reduce sugar content of foods though many experts feel that too little is being done.[14] Notably there are widespread calls for curbing advertising of unhealthy foods to children and banning promotions of unhealthy food (such as multipacks and buy one get one free) in supermarkets, restaurants, cafes and take-aways.[15]

Health Service[edit]

Consultation will start over cost saving, streamlining and reduction of some services in the National Health Service.[16] Critics fear cuts that could put lives at risk[17] though the review is about more than reducing costs. An article in The Guardian suggests possible benefits from the review but fears secrecy within the NHS is hindering effective public discussion.[18] Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb accepted the review makes sense in principle but stated "While it is important that the NHS becomes more efficient and sustainable for future generations, redesign of care models will only get us so far – and no experts believe the Conservative doctrine that an extra £8bn funding by 2020 will be anywhere near enough."[19]

David Cameron[edit]

In September 2016, David Cameron resigned as an MP, saying that he did not want to be a "distraction" for the new PM.[20] Toby Helm wrote in The Observer in September 2016 that May is seen as less right wing than Cameron,[21] but she is also seen as quite right wing by Rebecca Glover in The Independent, especially on immigration.[22]

Grammar schools[edit]

In September 2016, May announced that she would end a ban on new grammar schools.[23] A BBC article suggests grammar schools would be dumbed down while other secondary schools in the area would suffer.[24] Jon Coles of United Learning, which runs 60 schools is unconvinced more grammar schools will raise standards.[25] Poor children and children from families that are 'just about managing' tend to miss out on grammar school places.[26] None of the top ten nations with the best education has UK style grammar schools selecting at age 11.[27] The Royal Society commissioned research from the Education Policy Institute which shows disadvantaged pupils do worse overall in science and maths in regions with selective education.[28] A cross party Select Committee of MP's described the issue of grammar school expansion as an unnecessary distraction, cast doubt on the claim grammar schools improve social mobility and many speakers emphasized the need to tackle funding problems effect on the whole of schooling.[29] Following the outcome of the 2017 General Election, May's grammar school policy was not included in the Queen's Speech, and is unlikely to be pursued.[30]

Child poverty[edit]

The 'Child Poverty Unit' has been merged with the 'Department of Work and Pensions' leading to fears that child poverty will be less of a priority under May. This runs counter to May's pledge to govern for everyone and fight the injustice of being born poor. In 2014–2015 28% of UK children were poor.[31] The Child Poverty Action Group fears restricting the Child Poverty Unit to one department will reduce its effectiveness. The Institute for Fiscal Studies projects a 50% increase in child poverty by 2020 due to benefit cuts and 'sluggish wages'.[32][33]

Ministerial appointments[edit]

May also appointed new Cabinet members, in "one of the most sweeping government reshuffles for decades"[34] described as "a brutal cull" by The Telegraph since several prominent members, including six of Cameron's ministers, were removed from their posts.[35] The early appointments were interpreted both as "centrist and conciliatory", an effort to reunite the party in the wake of the UK's vote to leave the European Union, and as "a shift to the right", according to The Guardian.[36] Robert Peston of ITV News specifically labelled her new Cabinet as right wing.[37]

May abolished the Department for Energy and Climate Change in a move widely criticised by Greenpeace which expressed concern the new government failed to see the threat from climate change, Friends of the Earth which said climate change is happening now while the new government lowers its priority, also by other more impartial people and groups.[clarification needed] Climate change is included in the scope of a new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.[38]

Upon becoming Prime Minister, May appointed former Mayor of London Boris Johnson to Foreign Secretary, former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd to Home Secretary, and former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis to the newly created office of "Brexit Secretary."[39] Her choice of Boris Johnson for foreign secretary raised eyebrows,[40] and drew some criticism from the press.[41] Liam Fox and Philip Hammond, both of whom had previously served as Secretary of State for Defence (Fox in 2010–11 and Hammond in 2011–14), with Hammond having served as Foreign Secretary in 2014–16, were appointed to the newly created office of International Trade Secretary and Chancellor, respectively.[42][43] Replacing Michael Gove, Elizabeth Truss was made Justice Secretary, the "first female Lord Chancellor in the thousand-year history of the role".[44] Andrea Leadsom, who was energy minister and May's primary competitor for party leader, was made the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.[45] However, former Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers resigned from Cabinet after May offered her a post which was "not one which I felt I could take on".[46]

May jointly appointed Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy on 14 July as her joint Downing Street Chiefs of Staff.[47] Both had been political advisers to her at the Home Office before both working outside the government for a brief period before coming to work on her leadership campaign.[48][49] The three ministers with new roles who will negotiate the UK out of the EU had all espoused the Leave vote: David Davis, Brexit secretary, Liam Fox, overseas trade secretary and Boris Johnson, foreign secretary.[9]

First overseas trips[edit]

World map highlighting countries visited by Theresa May during her premiership
May addressing the World Economic Forum in 2017

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 before 2017, suggesting it would take time for the UK to negotiate a "sensible and orderly departure" from the EU. May also announced that in the wake of the referendum, Britain would relinquish the presidency of the Council of the European Union that the UK had been scheduled to hold in the second half of 2017.[50][51]

On 4 September, May attended the 2016 G20 Hangzhou summit, the first since the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. May sought to use the summit to emphasise her commitment to making the UK a "global leader in free trade" She also faced questions over the decision to delay planned Chinese investment in Hinkley Point C.[52]

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.[53]

2017 general election[edit]

On 18 April 2017, in a surprise statement made outside 10 Downing Street, May announced that she was to seek parliamentary approval for an early election to be held. She explained that, following the country's decision last summer to leave the European Union, she had "only recently and reluctantly come to this conclusion" and that although she had "said that there should be no election until 2020", that she had "concluded that the only way to guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead is to hold this election and seek your support for the decisions I must take."[54] May previously indicated through a spokesperson she had no plan for a general election, the spokesperson stated, “There isn’t going to be one. It isn’t going to happen. There is not going to be a general election.” She denied there would be an election many times.[55][56][57] On 19 April 2017 MPs gave May the two-thirds super-majority required to call the snap election she had called for. MPs voted 522 in favour and 13 against, giving the go-ahead for the election to be held on 8 June 2017.[58]

May making a speech outside 10 Downing Street following the 2017 general election

As of 9 June 2017 the Conservative Party lost seats and Labour gained seats. The Conservatives remained the largest single party but without an absolute majority. In the immediate aftermath of the election, it was unclear if Theresa May would continue as Prime Minister.[59] May stated that she would have an informal understanding with the DUP to keep the Conservatives in government.

On 10 June 2017 10 Downing Street issued a statement that a Conservative–DUP agreement was reached in principle.[60] A few hours later, the statement was retracted when it was claimed that it had been "issued in error" and that talks between the Conservative Party and DUP were still ongoing.[61]

On 11 June 2017 former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, described May as a "dead woman walking".[62]

Second term (2017-present)[edit]

The Grenfell Tower fire, Windrush scandal, Universal Credit and Brexit all caused problems for May's government in its second term.[63] Potential candidates for a future general election were reluctant to put their names forward in the early days of the term. Suspected reasons at the time included being demoralized by May's premiership and lack of confidence that the Conservatives will win at the next election.[64]

May attended the annual Munich Security Conference from 16-17 February 2018 where she urged European allies to agree to a new security treaty.[65] Whilst in Germany she also held a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

In June 2018, May wrote in the Evening Standard, saying she will "always regret" not meeting the surviving residents of Grenfell Tower in the immediate aftermath of the building's fire which killed 72 people.[66]

In July 2018, it was announced the British government was not planning to object to the United States seeking the death penalty for two suspected British members of ISIL, waiving Britain's long-standing objection to foreign executions.[67][68]

On 27 February 2019, May told the House of Commons that she thought Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn should suspend Labour MP Chris Williamson from his party, because of his saying the party has been "too apologetic" over anti-Semitism claims. He was subsequently suspended.[69]

On 28 February, May addressed a Jordan investment conference in Central London, speaking alongside Jordan's Prime Minister, Omar Razzaz. King Abdullah II was present at the conference, where May announced new economic support for Jordan.

On 7 March, May, along with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Duchess of Cornwall, and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, attended an event at Buckingham Palace which marked the 50th anniversary of the investiture of the Prince of Wales.

Responses to Donald Trump[edit]

Theresa May was strongly criticised in the United Kingdom[70][71][72][73] by members of all major parties, including her own, for refusing to condemn Donald Trump's Executive Order 13769 (colloquially known as the "Muslim ban")[70][74][72] as well as for inviting Trump to a state visit with Queen Elizabeth II.[75]

More than 1.8 million signed an official parliamentary e-petition which said that "Donald Trump's well documented misogyny and vulgarity disqualifies him from being received by Her Majesty the Queen or the Prince of Wales,"[76] and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said in Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) that Trump should not be welcomed to Britain "while he abuses our shared values with his shameful Muslim ban and attacks on refugees' and women's rights"[77] and said that Trump should be banned from the UK until the bar on Muslims entering the US is lifted.[78][75]

Baroness Warsi, former chair of the Conservatives, accused May of "bowing down" to Trump, who she described as "a man who has no respect for women, disdain for minorities, little value for LGBT communities, no compassion clearly for the vulnerable and whose policies are rooted in divisive rhetoric."[79][80] London Mayor Sadiq Khan and the Conservative leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, also called for the visit to be cancelled.[81][79] In a statement, Corbyn said, "Theresa May should not be rolling out the red carpet for a state visit to honour a president who rips up vital international treaties, backs climate change denial and uses racist and misogynist rhetoric. Maintaining an important relationship with the United States does not require the pomp and ceremony of a state visit. It is disappointing that the prime minister has again opted to kowtow to this US administration." He confirmed he was intending to boycott the state banquet at Buckingham Palace in honour of President Trump.[82]

Brexit deadlock[edit]

The government has so far not been able to reach an EU withdrawal agreement that has been approved by the Conservative Party as a whole. How to manage the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has remained a major problem; the so-called 'backstop'.[83]

Following Cabinet agreement for May's proposals on Brexit, David Davis resigned from his government position on 8 July 2018.[84][85] The day after, Steve Baker also resigned. It was later reported that May was beginning to face the threat of a leadership contest amid mounting anger from Brexiteers over her government's Brexit policy.[86] Conservative Party backbencher Andrea Jenkyns called on for the Prime Minister to be replaced, saying “Theresa May's premiership is over”.[87][88] Boris Johnson resigned as Foreign Secretary on 9 July 2018.[89] May's controversial draft withdrawal agreement received widespread criticism and at least 23 Conservative MPs proceeded to submit a letter demanding a vote of no confidence (a total 48 letters from MP's are needed trigger one).[90][91] In addition to this, 4 ministers, including cabinet members Esther McVey and Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned over the deal.[92][93] However, a poll of 505 Conservative councillors found that a majority wanted MPs to back the prime minister, despite the fact that more were against the deal than for it.[94]

On 4 December 2018, the May government was found in contempt of Parliament; the first government to be found in contempt in history on a motion passed by MPs by 311 to 293 votes. The vote was triggered by the government failing to lay before Parliament any legal advice on the proposed withdrawal agreement on the terms of the UK's departure from the European Union, after a humble address for a return was unanimously agreed to by the House of Commons on 13 November 2018. The government then agreed to publish the full legal advice  for Brexit that was given to the Prime Minister by the Attorney General during negotiations with the European Union.

A House of Commons vote on May's deal was set to take place on 11th December 2018, but was delayed due to of a lack of support for the deal.[95] The following day, it was announced that May would face a vote of confidence in her leadership, after at least 48 Conservative MPs had submitted letters of no confidence to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady. On the evening of 12th December, May won the vote by 200 votes to 117.[96] She subsequently went to an EU summit to secure legal assurances over her Brexit deal, specifically over the controversial 'backstop'. European leaders have however ruled out any renegotiation of the deal, but have not ruled out assurances on the backstop's temporary nature.[97] Theresa May said that she would not lead the Conservatives in the 2022 general election.[98] On January 16, Parliament as a whole held a vote of no confidence in May and her government, which Jeremy Corbyn called a "zombie" government. It was the second no-confidence motion since 1925 after the 1979 vote against James Callaghan. The motion fell in May's favour by 19 votes (325 to 306).[99]

On 15 January 2019, May's government was defeated in the House of Commons by a margin of 230 votes (202 in favour and 432 opposed) in a vote on her deal to leave the EU. It was the largest majority against a United Kingdom government in history. On 14 February the same year, May suffered another Commons defeat after MPs voted by 303 to 258 - a majority of 45 - against a motion endorsing the government's Brexit negotiating strategy.

In February 2019, three Conservative MPs - Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry, and Sarah Wollaston - defected from the party to join The Independent Group, a pro-EU political association of MPs founded by seven former members of the Labour party. The MPs said the reasons for their departure were their opposition to the party's handling of Brexit, what they saw as the takeover of the Conservative party by 'right wing, ... hard-line anti-EU' MPs, and lack of concern from the Conservative party for the 'most vulnerable in society'.[100][101]

Since the setting of the 29 March 2019 date for the UK's EU withdrawal, by former Brexit Secretary David Davis, May has been concentrating on convincing MPs to agree to leave with her Brexit deal on the agreed date, despite some Conservative backbenchers proposing a two-month postponement. She has also been vocally opposed to a second referendum on Brexit. On February 24, May delayed the "meaningful vote" on the final Brexit deal until March 12, less than a fortnight before the March 29 date.[102] She faced further calls for her resignation.[103] On February 26, she said that she wanted to avoid a possible extension to Article 50, the part of the EU treaty that states "Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements". She also spoke of the fact that she hopes MPs will get to vote on a "short, limited" delay to Brexit if they reject her deal and a no-deal exit from the EU.[104]

On February 28, the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries & Food, George Eustice, resigned from May's government over her promise to allow MPs a vote on delaying Brexit if her Brexit deal is rejected. In his resignation letter, Eustice said "I fear that developments this week will lead to a sequence of events culminating in the EU dictating the terms of any extension requested and the final humiliation of our country."[105]

On 12 March, May was again defeated in the House of Commons, this time by 149 votes (242 in favour and 391 against), on her latest Brexit deal after she secured last-minute concessions from the EU.[106] Later that month, in the days leading up to the March 29 date, May began asking the EU for a short extension of the two-year Brexit process until 30 June. European Council President Donald Tusk said he believed the EU would agree to a short extension, but this would only be if May's deal was supported by UK MPs, and not in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

On 11 April, EU leaders agreed to offer the UK a Brexit extension until 31 October, which May accepted, after previously saying said she would not accept an extension beyond 30 June.[107] The new withdrawal date postponed the risk of the UK "crashing out" of the EU without a deal. From the Labour benches, Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer called May's delay "a good thing", saying businesses would be "relieved", and "Negotiations are in good faith. We all feel a deep sense of duty to break the impasse. But there's also this question of how on Earth do we ensure that anything this prime minister promises is actually delivered in the future because of course she's already said she's going to step down, probably within months."[108]

Talks between Labour and the government aimed at breaking the Brexit impasse ended without agreement on 17 May.[109] May promised to set a timetable for her departure from office if she lost the Parliamentary vote on her EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill in the week beginning 3 June. The chairman of the 1922 committee, Sir Graham Brady, said he had reached an agreement over the Prime Minister's future during "very frank" talks in Parliament. He confirmed that the committee's executive and May would meet again to discuss her future following the first debate.[110]

Huawei 5G network row[edit]

In April 2019, May approved the supply of equipment by the Chinese telecoms firm Huawei for the UK's upgrade to a 5G data network. The government went ahead with the decision despite the Five Eyes intelligence grouping - Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain - being urged by the United States to exclude the company, due to the rumoured risk of espionage or sabotage.[111] Huawei has been denying claims it is controlled by the Chinese government. The former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, accused May of putting economic interests ahead of national security, saying the decision to allow Huawei to supply 5G technology was 'appalling' and presented a significant security risk.[112]

The day after May's announcement, it was made public that the police were near to being called in on the Cabinet after an unauthorised disclosure surfaced regarding whether or not to let Huawei bid for sensitive 5G contracts. The Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office called for the resignation of the minister who leaked the information,[113] and May faced criticism for not calling in MI5 to investigate the leak. On 1 May 2019, May dismissed her Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, saying she had "compelling evidence" he was responsible for the unauthorised disclosure. May said she had "lost confidence in his ability to serve", promoting former International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt into his role. Williamson strenuously denied leaking the information.[114]

Foreign trips[edit]

May with Angela Merkel and Donald Trump at the G20 Hamburg summit in July 2017

As of March 2019, Theresa May has made 66 trips to 33 countries since her premiership began on 13 July 2016. Her first overseas visit was to Germany, where she met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin to discuss Germany–United Kingdom relations while the United Kingdom prepared for Brexit.

The country May has been to the most has been Belgium; she has visited 23 times so far during her premiership, often partaking in Brexit negotiations at the European Council and Commission. May has so far partaken in 3 UN GA summits, 3 G20 summits, 3 EU summits, 2 G7 summits, 2 NATO summits, and 1 CHOGM summit.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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British Premierships
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Cameron
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