Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters A boy holds a Union Jack flag in front of a bonfire burning in the Shankill Road area ahead of the Twelfth of July celebrations held by members of the Orange Order in Belfast, Northern Ireland, July 12, 2016.

Which Brexit Will May Choose?

Save the United Kingdom or the Tories

The United Kingdom’s new prime minister is off to a dazzling start. The shrewd and unpretentious Theresa May, who since 2010 had served as home secretary in David Cameron’s government, has found herself thrust into the spotlight after the turmoil that followed the Brexit bombshell. She quickly emerged as the last Tory standing for her party’s leadership after Cameron’s abrupt resignation. As the Conservative Party was about to descend into internecine strife—fleshing out the wildest dreams of the screenwriters of both House of Cards and Game of Thrones—May was hailed as a “safe pair of hands” who could unite her party and her country. A low-key Remain campaigner herself, she beat her Leave rivals, who either backstabbed one another or self-destructed within days, with remarkable ease simply by promising that “Brexit means Brexit.”

The woman who warned in 2002 that voters saw the Tories as “the nasty party” showed off both her political acumen and a ruthless streak as she briskly moved to appoint her new cabinet. On the domestic front, by appointing her trusted friend and fellow Remain campaigner Philip Hammond to the Treasury, she initiated a shift in economic policy, away from her predecessor’s harsh austerity policies, in order to deal with the post-Brexit chilling effect. Known as spreadsheet Phil in his party, Hammond (together with Mark Carney at the Bank of England) is expected to bring a semblance of order to the British economy to stave off recession, even though this will go against his instincts as a fiscal hawk. Also, by promoting her other Remain allies (Amber Rudd to Home Secretary, Liz Truss to Justice Secretary, and Justine Greening to Education Secretary), May has situated her domestic policy firmly in the center of British politics, which had been vacated by Jeremy Corbyn’s shambolic Labour Party. With Cameron out of the picture, and having unceremoniously sacked his sidekick Chancellor George Osborne and Brexit frenemy Michael Gove, May also put paid to the chumocracy. In one masterstroke, she ended the cliquey Whitehall reign of the posh boys hailing from London’s Notting Hill set.

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