Theresa May will be Britain’s next prime minister

By Bagehot

JUST when it looked like Westminster was settling into a long summer of party-leadership elections, Andrea Leadsom this morning cut the Conservative contest short by withdrawing from the race to succeed David Cameron. That leaves just Theresa May. In a statement given shortly afterwards Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee of Tory MPs, announced that—pending a final confirmation from the party’s board—the home secretary will thus be installed as leader of the party. She is expected to take over from Mr Cameron soon, possibly before the end of the week. Sources close to the prime minister have confirmed that he does not intend to hold up proceedings.

What do we know of the woman who will soon move into 10 Downing Street? Her long (six years) spell as home secretary, a job known as a graveyard of careers, has given her a reputation for being inscrutable, competent and—in some respects—authoritarian (see article). She is a hawk on immigration. On the other hand, she was warning her party of its “nasty” reputation, three years before Mr Cameron became leader and set about trying to modernise it. She was instrumental to the legalisation of gay marriage three years ago and was on the Remain side of Britain’s EU referendum campaign, albeit keeping mostly quiet about it.

This morning’s news came just as Mrs May was giving a speech in which she pinched a series of social-democratic policies from Labour (she called for workers on company boards, more sharing of the proceeds of growth and a crackdown on corporate tax-dodging), in what may signal an intention to tilt her party’s economic stance fractionally leftwards. Still, her premiership will be dominated by one subject, and one alone: Brexit. The new prime minister has said she will not rush to invoke Article 50, beginning formal exit talks, and in her public pronouncements has emphasised the importance of retaining single-market access to a greater degree than some of her more die-hard Eurosceptic colleagues, some of whom question whether she will drive a hard enough bargain with the 26 other EU states.

Given the coming storms—from the renegotiation to the economic fallout from Britain’s decision on June 23rd—Mrs May will surely be tempted to call an early election. She has previously ruled this out. But those around her obsess about avoiding the mistakes of Gordon Brown, another introverted master of detail who inherited the premiership rather than winning it at the polls. Mr Brown contemplated a vote in 2007 when he took over from Tony Blair, chickened out and lived to regret it. So as the home secretary prepares her move to that storied, terraced house in SW1 and contemplates a Labour Party tearing itself apart, the thought must cross her mind: time to go to the country and secure a five-year lease?

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