Crowded inbox greets May

Crowded inbox greets May

 Theresa May visits Al Madina Mosque in east London. Source: Flickr
Britain’s new prime minister, Theresa May, says she will set up a “Brexit” department and seek early meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to ease painful exit negotiations.

“Brexit means Brexit,” she said this week. “There will be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it by the back door and no second referendum.”

The big decision is when to trigger the Article 50 exit clause, with May saying it will not be this year but Tory Eurosceptics will pressure her to get on with it. The longer the issue is delayed, the more the momentum surrounding the referendum will subside.

May wants to build up trade relationships outside Europe and finance minister George Osborne has sought to make the UK “China’s number one partner in the west” but Nick Timothy, May’s chief policy adviser, has been scathing about this approach. “What are the Chinese buying with their gold?” he asked. “The first thing on their shopping list is British silence on human rights abuses and the government has been only too happy to oblige.”

Given her many years as interior minister, security and counter-terrorism issues will also be high on her agenda.

In economic policy, May wants to put workers on company boards, curb executive pay, create a “proper industrial strategy”, place controls on hostile foreign takeovers of UK firms and launch a crackdown on corporate tax avoidance. She dropped Osborne’s plan to run a budget surplus by 2020, signalling an end to his so-called austerity policy as she tries to improve conditions for working-class voters who overwhelmingly backed the Leave campaign.

A divisive issue awaits her on where to build another runway for London. May’s Maidenhead constituency lies beneath the Heathrow flight path and she has opposed the construction of a third runway at the sprawling giant.

Gatwick, the rival airport wanting to expand, is urging her to allow it to build a second runway. May is tough on immigration but also promotes women in politics, gay marriage and tackling police “stop and search”, which predominantly targets black men.

A younger May had wanted to be Britain’s first woman premier and was annoyed when Margaret Thatcher beat her to it, one of her oldest friends claims.

Pat Frankland, who has known May since they studied together at St Hugh’s College in Oxford in 1974, said: “She wanted to be the first woman prime minister back in our Oxford days and she was very irritated when Maggie Thatcher beat her to it. It was just – ‘I wanted to be first and she got there first’.

“I met her on our first or second day of college, when she was 17 and I was 18. I was aware of that ambition from the very early days. She used to drag me along to political lectures.”

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