(Vatican Radio) Britain gets a new Prime Minister today as Theresa May succeeds former leader David Cameron.
As Britain continues to deal with the fallout of Brexit, following a referendum last month, May will take up office at 10 Downing Street with the huge task of negotiating Britain’s divorce from the European Union and at the same time causing the minimum amount of economic damage.
Dr. Brian Klaas, a Fellow in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics, spoke to Vatican Radio’s Georgia Gogarty to discuss the current political situation in Britain and the challenges that await Theresa May.
Theresa May’s entrance into office “is one of the few calls for stability in British politics in what has been an extremely tumultuous time”, Klaas says. Following Brexit, British politics has undergone a wave of instability with turmoil in both the Conservative and Labour parties. Klaas says that May “is somebody who can unify the Conservative party” however although she may be “a force of stability”, the political system is “by no means out of rough waters”.
The Brexit debate will dominate May’s time in office, according to Klaas, and determining Britain’s new relationship with the EU will “outshine almost anything else she does”. She has a “huge challenge” ahead of her in uniting a divided Kingdom. Despite the mandate to leave the EU, 48% of the voting population “don’t agree with that vision of Britain’s place in the world”.
Klaas says that Brexit also highlighted a greater underlying problem in Britian. Last month’s vote demonstrates that “a lot of people are very upset with the status quo in Britain”, feeling that they have been left behind by globalization and many blame the Brussels bureaucracy and immigrants, according to Klaas. He stresses that May must “answer these very real grievances of the people” and simultaneously make clear that “Britian needs to stand with the world and open its doors to immigrants”.
May has managed to silence many of her critics by saying “Brexit means Brexit”, and is consequently sending a very clear message to Europe that they “should prepare for a future without Britain”, says Klaas. Britain will become an important trading partner for the EU as it is “impossible for Britain to be prosperous without Europe” and vice versa. Regardless the relationship will change. According to Klaas, EU leaders must decide whether or not to “welcome Britain with open arms” and risk encouraging other EU member states to pursue their own version of Brexit, or punish Britain for the consequences of this vote and ultimately hurt their own economy.
May will become Britain’s second female prime minister when she takes up office this afternoon. Klaas says that “there is an emerging voice in politics that is female” and by early 2017, we could be in a situation where many of the world’s key organizations are being led by women. Although at the same time we are nowhere near equality, Klaas explains that “women growing up today can realistically believe they can become world leaders” which is a huge change from previous generations. He went onto say that we can also expect to see a gender balance in May’s cabinet.
With Britain experiencing huge political change in the last few weeks, with potetially huge consequence for the average person, Klaas stresses that May is going to have to do an excellent job at drawing people together but realistically faces the fact that she will disappoint a large number of people. It cannot be denied, he says, that Britain’s new prime minister faces a tough road ahead.