Making history

Theresa May emphasizes unity as she becomes prime minister of Britain

British Prime Minister Theresa May outside 10 Downing Street on July 13, 2016 in London, England. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

Theresa May took office as Britain’s prime minister on Wednesday afternoon, emphasizing unity — both of the United Kingdom and its people — in a speech to assembled media outside 10 Downing Street. “Not everybody knows this, but the full title of my party is the Conservative and Unionist Party, and that word unionist is very important to me,” she said. “It means we believe in the union — the precious, precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — but it means something else that is just as important. It means that we believe in a union not just between the nations of the United Kingdom but between all of our citizens, every one of us, whoever we are and wherever we are from.”

Her predecessor David Cameron, whom she called a “very modern prime minister,” had tendered his resignation to Queen Elizabeth II earlier in the day. The monarch then asked May to form a government. It is a testament to Queen Elizabeth’s longevity that May, 59, is her 13th prime minister. (Her first was Winston Churchill.) May is only the second woman to ever hold the job of British P.M., after Margaret Thatcher.

Reiterating the platform she espoused when she declared her candidacy for the leadership of the Conservative party, May committed to turn her attention to the “burning injustice” of poverty; harsh treatment of blacks by the police; lack of university access for white working-class boys; mental illness; and the gender pay gap. “The government I lead will be driven not by the interest of the privileged few, but by yours,” she said. “We will do we everything we can to give you more control over your lives.”

She also reconfirmed her commitment to seeing through the process of Britain’s exit from the European Union — a position she had campaigned against in the run-up to the referendum. The Guardian reported earlier that May was expected to promote a number of women to cabinet positions, aiming to improve on policy making through better gender balance. “It was Theresa who set up the campaign to elect more female MPs to parliament, and she has always believed that there should be more women in prominent government positions,” said a spokeswoman for May.

Amber Rudd has been made home secretary, filling the vacancy left by May. Rudd, 52, was formerly energy and climate change secretary, a position she held for just one year. The former investment banker, venture capitalist, and financial journalist has said she decided to enter politics in her 40s to get “a grip on her life.” Liz Truss moves from her role as secretary for environment, food and rural affairs to take up the justice portfolio. Justine Greening is the new education secretary and minister for women and equalities. At London’s Pride day on 25 June, two days after the Brexit vote, she announced in a tweet she was in a same-sex relationship, saying “I campaigned for Stronger In but sometimes you’re better off out!”

This story has been updated to include details of May’s cabinet appointments.

Watch Theresa May interviewed by Tina Brown at the Women in the World London Summit:

Read the full story at The New York Times and the BBC.

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