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Theresa May Is Britain's New Prime Minister After David Cameron's Resignation
After a startlingly swift transfer of power, Theresa May became Britain's prime minister on Wednesday, promising to honor last month's referendum to leave the European Union, but also to heal divisions that the vote exposed, and to preside over an economy that benefits everyone, not just the "privileged few."
In a surprise appointment, Ms. May named Boris Johnson, the former London mayor who became a fiery advocate of the so-called Brexit campaign only to abruptly pull out of the race to become the next prime minister, as foreign secretary. That gave the key foreign policy role to perhaps the highest-profile supporter of withdrawal from the European Union as the government prepares to carry out that process.
Speaking as she arrived at the prime minister's office at 10 Downing Street, Ms. May, who had served for six years as home secretary, sought to position herself firmly in the tradition of "one nation" Conservatism, stressing her commitment to helping the underprivileged and pledging to fight "burning injustice."
"We are living through an important moment in our country's history; following the referendum, we face a time of great national change," Ms. May said, as her husband, Philip, stood nearby.
Ms. May had supported Britain's remaining in the European Union, but tepidly, and she promised to respect the outcome of the June 23 vote. "As we leave the European Union we will forge a bold new positive role for ourselves in the world, and we will make Britain a country that works not just for a privileged few but for every one of us," she said.
After the fast-paced events of recent weeks, a day of political ritual saw David Cameron address lawmakers for the last time as prime minister, before tendering his resignation to Queen Elizabeth II, to make way for Ms. May, 59, who takes over at a time of flux and uncertainty not seen in decades.
Only on Monday did Ms. May learn that she would become prime minister, when the last remaining contender to lead the ruling Conservative Party, Andrea Leadsom, quit the race.
Ms. May is the 13th prime minister to serve this queen — the first was Winston Churchill — and her task is more formidable than that of most of her predecessors. Ms. May must chart a course that unites her Conservative Party and takes Britain out of the European Union, while limiting the effect of withdrawal on an economy already heading for a downturn and bruised by a slump in the value of its currency.
Her first responsibility is to start constructing a new cabinet, and Ms. May quickly put her stamp on the new government by replacing the chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, with Philip Hammond, who had been foreign secretary. Mr. Osborne resigned from the government. She seems intent on using such appointments to help chart a different course than that of Mr. Cameron.
Ms. May is also expected to promote several women to powerful jobs and, because she argued for Britain to remain inside the European Union, to give key positions to several of those who took the opposing view, to create a political balance.
That referendum divided the nation, with the majority of voters in a number of less affluent areas opting to quit the bloc, while most of those in London, Scotland and Northern Ireland took the opposite view. On Monday, Ms. May outlined some of the economic changes she hopes to make, speaking about taming excessive executive pay, and arguing that big multinational companies must pay their fair share of tax.
Just an hour or so before Ms. May spoke on Wednesday, Mr. Cameron had stood in the same spot, flanked by his wife, Samantha and their three children, paying tribute to his family and his key staff members who had supported him.
"It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve our country as prime minister over these last six years, and to serve as the leader of my party for almost 11 years," Mr. Cameron said. "My only wish is continued success for this great country that I love so very much."
Mr. Cameron cited the nation's economic recovery as his top legacy. "With the deficit cut by two-thirds, two and a half million more people in work and one million more businesses, there can be no doubt that our economy is immeasurably stronger," he said.
He also cited among his accomplishments the legalization of same-sex marriage, in 2013; changes to the education system; and reduced wait times for operations in Britain's much loved National Health Service.
Hours earlier, in his final parliamentary duty, Mr. Cameron took part for the last time in prime minister's questions, the weekly ritual in which lawmakers interrogate the leader in often combative exchanges.
On Wednesday, the discussion was more respectful — and lighthearted — than usual, as Mr. Cameron's political adversaries and allies paid tribute to him as he prepared to leave his office in 10 Downing Street for the last time as prime minister.
Though Mr. Cameron won a general election only last year, he finds himself out of power at age 49. Mr. Cameron is the youngest prime minister to relinquish the job since Archibald Primrose, the Earl of Rosebery, in 1895.
Before leaving Parliament on Wednesday, to laughter and applause, Mr. Cameron appeared to reflect on the transience of power, telling lawmakers: "I was the future once."
More than a decade ago, when his party was in opposition, he had notably taunted the Labour prime minister, Tony Blair, telling him that Mr. Blair had been the future once.
Yet Mr. Cameron will mainly be remembered as the prime minister who gambled — and lost — by holding a referendum in which he called on Britons to continue more than four decades of European integration.
When 52 percent of voters decided they wanted to leave the bloc in last month's referendum, Mr. Cameron was left with little alternative but to resign.
While the power struggle in the Conservative Party is over for now, the one in the opposition Labour Party is just getting underway.
On Wednesday, Owen Smith, a Labour lawmaker who used to speak for the party on work and pensions issues, said he would run for the leadership. Angela Eagle, who used to speak for the party on business issues, announced on Monday that she would challenge Mr. Corbyn, who has refused to stand down despite the resignation of most of his leadership team in Parliament.
The Labour Party's ruling body — the National Executive Committee — decided that Mr. Corbyn would automatically be on the ballot, without needing to collect the necessary nominations from lawmakers, a task he would have struggled to accomplish.
The committee also decided to suspend local party meetings for the duration of the leadership contest, in a move apparently prompted by allegations of intimidation of lawmakers and party members. The timetable for the leadership vote is expected to be announced on Thursday; the contest will probably conclude by the end of September.
[Source: By Stephen Castle and Sewell Chan, International New York Times, London, 13Jul16]
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