Horndiplomat-The country’s next prime minister Theresa May has said she was “honoured and humbled” to be chosen as leader of the Conservative party.
Speaking outside the houses of parliament, she said the country faced “difficult and uncertain economic times”. In her first remarks as leader of the party, she said the country was going to make a success of its Brexit negotiations, and spoke of the need to unite the country.
May said she wanted “a country that works not just for the privileged few but for everyone of us”, adding: “We’re going to give people more control over their lives.”
She spoke shortly after David Cameron said he will step down on Wednesday afternoon following prime minister’s questions, allowing Theresa May to succeed him at No 10.
The outgoing prime minister made a brief statement on Monday, welcoming the fact there would not be a prolonged Conservative leadership contest and saying that he felt Andrea Leadsom had made the right decision to step aside.
“It is clear that Theresa May has the overwhelming support of the Conservative parliamentary party. I’m also delighted that Theresa May will be the next prime minister,” he said.
“She is strong, she is competent, she is more than able to provide the leadership that the country needs in the years ahead. She will have my full support.”
Theresa May to become the 76th British prime minister, confirms David Cameron
As Cameron walked back into No 10 he was humming a tune and then said “right” as he walked back through the door.
The prime minister’s spokeswoman said Cameron had met May earlier in parliament and congratulated her. The mood among Downing Street staff was described as sombre, as preparations were sped up to move Cameron out of his office and relocate his family back to the home they shared before he entered government.
One Whitehall official who has worked with the prime minister said he was a “glass half full” type of person, who had been as positive as possible in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. “He believes in doing right by the country, he’s a pragmatist,” said one.
Another civil servant said Cameron would be proud of achievements ranging from the economy to gay marriage. But they said he was most impressive in the way “he handled consular issues, or hostage crises” and argued that he had an ability to be emotive and understand what others were going through.
“One of my biggest frustrations was all the talk of him as an Eton boy, but we saw his focus on people who didn’t have that sort of start in life,” said the source.
May will be the 76th prime minister since Sir Robert Walpole, considered to be the first holder of the office. She will also be the 13th PM during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.
Cameron said that he would chair his final cabinet meeting on Tuesday. After taking PMQs on Wednesday, he will head to Buckingham Palace to offer his resignation.
Speaking outside No 10 Downing Street, Cameron said May, now the home secretary, will have entered that office by Wednesday evening.
Earlier, May’s becoming prime minister was assured after Leadsom pulled out of the race to become the next Conservative leader, saying this was in the “best interests of the country”.
Warning that a nine-week leadership race would destabilise the country at a critical time following the Brexit vote, Leadsom said: “Business needs certainty; a strong and unified government must move quickly to set out what an independent UK’s framework for business looks like.”
Graham Brady, chair of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, said he had formally confirmed May as the new leader of the Conservative party, clearing the path for her to become prime minister.
May had to push through a huge hoard of journalists to make it into the 1922 meeting where Brady had confirmed she was Conservative leader. MPs thumped the desks and roared their approval as she entered the room.
Steve Baker, the leading Eurosceptic who had backed Leadsom, emerged from the meeting to say it was clear that the Conservative party was “united”.
He said many in the “voluntary party” were disappointed about the fact they wouldn’t now have a vote. “I hope they will understand that Andrea made a thoughtful decision.” He said he hoped May would deliver on Brexit. May had told MPs that she wanted to push ahead with the story manifesto and promised again that “Brexit means Brexit”.
She thanked Leadsom, who she said had taken a tough decision to withdraw. May was handed a large bunch of blue flowers bought by key supporter Margot James, and handed over by Brady. She accidentally called him “Sir Graham”, sparking laughter from MPs.
On Monday morning – before Leadsom pulled out – May made a speech in Birmingham in which she promised to lead a country that works for everyone rather than a privileged few, making a one-nation pitch to be the new Conservative leader.
May echoed several central themes from Ed Miliband’s 2015 election campaign, including reducing inequality, a crackdown on tax avoidance and tough action on corporate irresponsibility. She said she wanted to speak to the country and not just the Conservative members who would vote for her.
Theresa May leaving No 10. From Wednesday, it will be her new home.
Theresa May leaving No 10. From Wednesday, it will be her new home. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters
In the hardest-hitting passage of the speech, she said: “We need a government that will deliver serious social reform – and make ours a country that truly works for everyone. Because right now, if you’re born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others.
“If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white. If you’re a white working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else to go to university. If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately.
“If you’re a woman, you still earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s too often not enough help to hand. If you’re young you’ll find it harder than ever before to own your own home.”
Her comments implicitly criticise Cameron’s government for failing to do enough to deal with those areas of inequality. They also contrast with his and George Osborne’s relentless focus on the need for economic competence. “We don’t just maintain economic confidence and steer the country through challenging times but we make sure that everyone can share in the country’s wealth,” she said.
May immediately came under pressure from opposition parties to call an early general election, something that she has promised Conservative MPs she will not do.
Andrea Leadsom pulled out of the Tory leadership race on Monday.
Andrea Leadsom pulled out of the Tory leadership race on Monday. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, said people deserved more than a “Tory stitch-up”. He added: “Just 13 months after the last election the Conservatives have plunged the UK into chaos. It is simply inconceivable that Theresa May should be crowned prime minister without even having won an election in her own party, let alone the country,” said Farron.
Jon Trickett, Labour’s election coordinator and a shadow cabinet member, agreed with the Liberal Democrats that it now looked like “the coronation of a new Conservative prime minister”.
He said. “It is crucial, given the instability caused by the Brexit vote, that the country has a democratically elected prime minister. I am now putting the whole of the party on a general election footing.”
Chris Grayling, who chaired the home secretary’s campaign, said she was “enormously honoured to have been entrusted with this task” by so many parliamentary colleagues.
He said Leadsom’s actions had shown “what a principled and decent politician she is and how willing she is to put the interests of the country before her own. “She is a true public servant.” Grayling added: “Now is the time for us to unite.”
Leadsom, the energy minister, said the support of 84 MPs was a great expression of confidence, but conceded it was less than 25% of the parliamentary party and not sufficient support if she were to win the ballot of Conservative members. “Strong leadership is needed immediately,” added Leadsom, praising her opponent, and adding that May would honour the result of the Brexit referendum.
Leadsom, who campaigned to leave the EU, said she believed May would act upon the wishes of the public following the Brexit vote.