Theresa May

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Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Notable Quotes

“I never thought I would see the day when members of the Jewish community in the United Kingdom would say that they were fearful of remaining here in our country. We cherish the enormous contribution you make…(w)ithout its Jews, Britain would not be Britain.”

(The Palestinian-Israeli conflict) “is a real conflict with innocent victims on both sides. It is about self-identity for the Palestinian people. And it is about Israel’s right to defend its citizens from indiscriminate terrorist attacks and existential threats.”

In response to critics of her initiative, as Home Secretary, to place significant limits on immigration into Britain from Syria: “Wherever possible, I want to offer asylum and refuge to people in parts of the world affected by conflict and oppression, rather than to those who have made it to Britain. I want us to reduce the asylum claims made in Britain, and as we do so, increase the number of people we help in the most troubled regions. What I’m proposing is a deal – the fewer people there are who wrongly claim asylum in Britain, the more generous we can be in helping the most vulnerable people in the world’s most dangerous places.”

Early Years and Education

You were born in the city of Eastbourne, in England’s Sussex County, in 1956. Your father was a clergyman in the Church of England, and over the years of your schooling you attended both state schools and Catholic schools. You graduated from Oxford University in 1977 with a degree in Geography, and you worked in banking for the first 20 years of your career. By the mid-80’s you were involved in local London politics, and you tried unsuccessfully on two occasions to run for parliament with the Conservative Party before you were finally elected to represent Maidenhead (west of London) in parliament in 1997.

Public Life

The Conservatives were out of power when you were elected to parliament, but in British politics there is something called a Shadow Cabinet. The Shadow Cabinet has many of the same positions that the actual cabinet has, but it is populated by minority party members, the idea being that Shadow Cabinet members receive a kind of preparation that leaves them ready to take actual cabinet positions should their party gain the majority. Over your first few years in Parliament, you served as Shadow Minister for Education; Transport; Work and Pensions; and Culture, Media and Sport. In 2002, you became the first woman ever to be chosen as the Head of the Conservative Party, a role that gave you a great deal of visibility. In that role, you famously decried the Conservatives reputation as the “Nasty Party,” meaning that the Conservatives had a reputation that dated back at least to the Prime Ministership of Margaret Thatcher as supporting policies that hurt working people and reduced public services. You felt that this reputation was doing Conservatives no favors, and that it needed to be changed. Your career really took off in 2010, when your party won the elections, electing David Cameron as Prime Minister. You were selected by Cameron to serve as Home Secretary (akin to the American position of Secretary of the Interior). You became the fourth woman in British history to serve in one of the so-called “Great Offices of State,” the four most prestigious and senior positions (the others being Foreign Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer—akin to the American Secretary of the Treasury, and Prime Minister) in Great Britain. As Home Secretary, you were responsible for placing greater restrictions on immigration into Britain, but you also oversaw the legalization of gay marriage in England and, in the spirit of your mission to rid the Conservatives of the “Nasty Party” label, you advocated for having workers on corporate boards, and for a crackdown on corporate tax-dodging.

When the 2016 ballot referendum on the so-called “Brexit” went before British voters, you were one of the Conservative Party leaders who stood with Prime Minister Cameron in favor of the idea that Great Britain should remain in the European Union. You were notably reserved in your advocacy for the “remain” side, however, but when it was decided that Great Britain should leave the European Union and Prime Minister Cameron resigned, it was assumed that the new leader of the Conservative Party (who would become Prime Minister owing to the Conservatives holding the parliamentary majority) would be someone who was aligned with the “leave” side. However, owing to in-fighting among “leave” leaders like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, and perhaps also to the ambivalence Conservatives felt about leaving the EU (as well as your strong reputation as a part stalwart), you were chosen to lead the Conservatives, becoming Prime Minister in July 2016.

Domestic Issues of Concern

More than any other issue, your tenure as Prime Minister will be judged by how you carry out Great Britain’s exit from the European Union. Upon taking office, you quickly announced that Great Britain would not immediately trigger Act 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (through which a nation officially begins the two-year process of departure from the EU) until you had coordinated plans with Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom (which also includes Northern Ireland and Wales) for the departure from the EU. You are well aware that while Wales joined England in voting to leave the EU, both Scottish and Northern Irish voters chose to stay in the EU. You are also painfully aware of the fact that, in 2014, Scottish voters narrowly defeated a referendum that would have taken Scotland out of the United Kingdom, and you will need to handle things carefully so that you can enact a withdrawal from the EU (or perhaps a partial withdrawal?) that won’t result in a renewed push for Scottish independence. As mentioned above, you were in favor of Britain remaining in the EU, and most of the people you appointed to the cabinet shared your point-of-view. You have, however, put pro-Brexit people in all of the cabinet positions that relate to the departure from the EU, so you clearly understand where things are headed. Observers say that this decision shows that you want the messy business of the Brexit to be in the hands of its advocates, allowing you to keep your distance from an ugly business. Specifically, you appointed Brexit lead campaigner Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. Some said that this showed how savvy you are, indicating your awareness that you are likely better off with the free-wheeling Johnson inside the government, not standing outside it lobbing criticism over how the process of Great Britain’s exit from the EU unfolds.

Perhaps your biggest issue during your tenure as Home Secretary was immigration. You made an issue out of reducing immigration, stating a goal to have no more than 100,000 new immigrants to Great Britain per year. When you failed to reach that target you blamed EU policies, which many concluded would lead you to support the “leave” side in the Brexit vote, but you went the other way. Your rationale for supporting a reduction in immigration was that immigration stresses the economy and the educational system, and forces wages down, despite the fact that many economists feel that the result is precisely the opposite, and that an increase in immigration benefits the economy by most measures. In 2016, you also instituted a regulation holding that most immigrants to England over the previous 10 years who were making less than $53,000 were subject to deportation. Your rationale for supporting this initiative was that it would force British businesses to invest in training British people, rather than bringing in less expensive workers from abroad, but there has been a significant pushback against this, accusing you of feeding more general anti-immigrant sentiment. An article in Vox Magazine reminds readers that “EU rules required the UK to accept migrants from any other country inside the EU, which was unpopular with a huge number of Britons. Indeed, polling data suggests that anti-immigrant sentiment was the single most decisive factor in Britain voting to leave (the EU).” You have also spoken of Britain possibly withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which you’ve said constrains the British parliament in its ability to enforce laws, particularly with regard to the deportation of foreign criminals.

Beliefs and Policies Pertaining to the Middle East

In relation to the Israel-Palestine conflict, you believe there should be a State of Israel as well as a Palestinian State, mutually recognized, and co-existing in peace. This goal requires a viable state for the Palestinians and real security for Israel. You have worked diligently to cultivate a strong relationship with British Jewry, making a noteworthy speech in 2014 (upon your return from a trip to Israel) in which you hazarded a few words of Hebrew, and spoke of the threats that Israel faces from antagonistic neighbors, stating that “no democratic government could, in the face of such danger, do anything but maintain a strong defense and security capability and be prepared to deploy it if necessary. That is why I – and the whole British government – will always defend Israel’s right to defend itself.” Your stance relative to Britain’s Muslim community is perhaps less clear cut, but many have claimed that your strong advocacy for Britain’s anti-radicalization “Prevent” policy gives a clear sense of where you stand. The Deputy Head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Harun Khan, stated that "Most young people are seeing [Prevent] as a target on them and the institutions they associate with,” seeing themselves being treated as a "suspect community.” In short, your anti-radicalization and immigration policies are often seen as unfairly stigmatizing and targeting British Muslims.

In one noteworthy instance, the Israeli-Palestinian politician Sheikh Raed Salah was invited by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to address a committee of the British parliament. After Saleh was admitted to Britain, you placed him under house arrest, citing evidence that he had supported terrorism and was a “threat to public order.” In the end, the British Upper Immigration Tribunal disputed your claims and evidence, and ordered that Saleh be freed.

In the bigger picture, you have consistently voted to support David Cameron’s policies in the Middle East, including Britain’s policies in Iraq (going all the way back to the start of British military involvement in 2003), and in Syria. Not only did your Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson take a different stand on Brexit than you did, but he has also advocated for Britain biting the bullet and supporting Russia and the Syrian government of Bashar Assad in the battle against ISIS. Many are watching closely to see if Johnson’s proposed “deal with the devil” policies will become British foreign policy, accepting a role and place for Assad in Syria in return for his cooperation fighting ISIS.

Role-Playing Notes

Upon your ascension to the Prime Minister’s position, the Economist editorialized that you possess “a Merkelian calm (as in German Chancellor Angela Merkel), well suited to counter the chaos of the moment, and a track record of competence that increases the likelihood of an orderly withdrawal from the EU.” You have presented yourself as dependable and trustworthy, stating that “I’m somebody who gets on with the job, but I’m also somebody who says it as I see it and actually delivers on what I say.” You see yourself as a forward-thinking and a compassionate conservative.

You have, for example, a reputation for advocating for workers that departs from Conservative Party policies of the past. Upon taking the Prime Minister’s post, you addressed the British citizenry, stating that "the government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives. ... When we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful, but you. When we pass new laws we’ll listen not to the mighty, but to you. When it comes to taxes we’ll prioritize not the wealthy but you.” Some have noted that your policies on workers rights align more with the ideas of Bernie Sanders, the American left-wing insurgent, than they do with the policies of David Cameron.

Still, you are regarded as a generally risk-averse person, someone who voted with her party an extraordinarily high percentage of the time. Does the calculated gamble you’ve taken by placing pro-Brexiteers in the leading foreign policy positions give the lie to that analysis? Will you be a bolder Prime Minister than many observers suggest you’ll be?


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