David Cameron was supposed to remain prime minister of Great Britain until September. Then came the Brexit vote late last month and a high-profile humiliation of the Conservative Party leader. In the intervening weeks, a half-dozen candidates vied to replace Cameron. Over the weekend, the field narrowed to two: Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom and Home Secretary Theresa May. On Monday, Leadsom dropped out. That means on Wednesday, May will become Britain’s 76th prime minister and only the second woman to hold the job.
Here are four reasons that’s a good thing.
Relevant to U.S. interests, May is an Atlanticist. As Home Secretary, May has been Britain’s top politician for counter-terrorism issues since 2010. Correspondingly, she has deep personal understanding of how the U.S.-U.K. special relationship benefits Britain’s security. May recognizes that Britain gains great utility from its access to U.S. signals intelligence — via the National Security Agency — and from access to U.S. intelligence reporting around the world. May also knows that Britain’s influence on the international stage is strengthened by its access to the ear of American presidents. Post-Brexit, this concern over influence will be as important as ever. Regardless, as I noted recently, the U.K. faces a very challenging terrorist threat environment. Grappling with Brexit and Britain’s economic stability, the new prime minister will work hard to ensure U.S.-U.K. relations remain smooth and strong. May does not want unnecessary complications: expect a visit to Washington soon.
- May Has Proven Herself a Strong Leader in Government
Since the Conservative Party took power in 2010, May has been Britain’s Home Secretary. While some in the U.S. media describe this role as comparative to our Interior Secretary, it is actually quite different. In Britain, the Home Secretary is the government minister responsible for domestic security, immigration law enforcement, and a range of other sensitive issues. For that reason, the job of Home Secretary is seen as the second most challenging post in government after prime minister. And normally, politicians only survive two or three years in the office before resigning over a bureaucratic failure or scandal. The fact that May has survived six years in the position is therefore highly impressive. It shows she has a command of complex issues, and is capable of managing an unwieldy bureaucracy. Most important, it illustrates that May is comfortable with crisis-related risks such as allowing British intelligence to gather evidence against terrorism suspects until the very last moment (strengthening the likelihood of conviction in the courts).
- May Was a Reformer But Will Now Be a Conservative-Realist
Britain’s next prime minister is focused on stability and competence rather than risky reforms. And while May is seen as personally rigid and somewhat hard to get along with, she is also greatly respected for her managerial skills. This is best illustrated by May’s reforms to British policing. Though opposed by many senior police officials, May was able to push through her reforms and retain the confidence of the British security establishment.
James Hargrave, a British political relations specialist, offered Opportunity Lives a personal testament. “As someone who worked opposite her and her team when I was with the police, I have a very professional respect for her; and had I been given a vote it would have gone to her without question,” he said.
Implementing Brexit, May will focus on securing Britain’s economic stability. Expect close engagement with foreign investors to the U.K. — including U.S. corporations. Do not expect legacy-focused shakeups of the British government.
- May Can Bring Her Party and Her Country Together
May supported Cameron’s effort to keep Britain in the European Union. But now the die is cast, May says she will ensure Britain leaves the European Union. This is relevant because a growing movement of campaigners is attempting to prevent Brexit. But as a non-showy leader, May also has a good opportunity to bring the country together. Britons are anxious about what Brexit will mean for their livelihoods and the future of their children, and May’s character is well disposed to ameliorate those concerns.
Expect a great deal of attention from May’s cabinet on consolidating business confidence in the U.K. And expect a cautious strategy towards effecting Brexit. “I don’t think she’ll invoke Article 50 [formal notice of intent to withdraw from the E.U.] straight away, I reckon early next year, then possibly a General Election to get the mandate to carry it forward,” Hargrove said. “I think she’ll want to keep it steady as she goes this side of Christmas.”
Still, there is one area that raises concerns, and that is May’s less-than-robust response to Chinese and Russian aggression. In recent years, Britain has pursued closer relations with China’s government in an effort to attract lucrative investment projects. But this proximity to the Chinese politburo has meant Britain has stayed notably silent on China’s imperialist island-construction project in the South and East China Seas. Be under no illusions, this will be an issue on the Obama-May agenda at their first meeting.
In a similar vein, May has shown less-than-resolute interest in challenging Russian organized crime and intelligence operations in the U.K. She was especially hesitant in blaming Vladimir Putin for his polonium-assassination of a Russian defector in 2006. Of course, now that May is about to become prime minister, perhaps she will feel responsible to take a tougher stance.
Tom Rogan is a Senior Contributor for Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.