LONDON — Theresa May struck a populist tone in her first public remarks as British Prime Minister on Wednesday, saying she planned to continue predecessor David Cameron’s “true legacy” of social justice.
The Conservative Party leader spoke directly to the poor, black and white working-class residents as well as women, youth and those with mental health issues, saying, “The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of a privileged few, but by yours.”
Her party prizes unionism, she said, and not just among England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, “but between all of our citizens, everyone, whoever we are and wherever we’re from.”
“David Cameron has led a one-nation government, and it is in that spirit that I also plan to lead,” she said.
In his final appearance in Parliament as Prime Minister, Cameron opened with the quip that “apart from one meeting in the afternoon with the Queen, my diary is remarkably light.”
Before resigning, Cameron delivered remarks outside 10 Downing Street, saying, “It’s not been an easy journey, and of course we’ve not got every decision right, but I do believe that today our country is much stronger.”
He wished May the best, especially as she negotiates the country’s “Brexit” from the European Union. If he were granted one wish, he said, it would be the “continued success of this great country that I love so very much.”
Leaving on light note
Earlier Wednesday, Cameron appeared to be in a jovial mood as he told members of Parliament: “I have addressed 5,500 questions from this dispatch box — I’ll leave it to others to decide how many I’ve answered.”
He held up a photo of himself with Larry the Downing Street cat, saying he loved the “chief mouser” and was sad to be leaving him behind.
On a more serious note, Cameron said he cared passionately about the UK, adding that “we need to make sure as we leave the EU, how we keep the benefits of the common travel area.”
Gesturing across the room and up to his wife, Samantha, watching from the gallery, he said: “I will miss the roar of the crowd, I will miss the barbs from the opposition, but I will be willing you on.
“Nothing is really impossible if you put your mind to it. After all, as I once said, I was the future once.”
How did we get here?
Cameron announced his resignation last month, following the UK’s shock referendum result to leave the EU.
May — the former home secretary who became Conservative leader Monday after her sole contender for the job, Andrea Leadsom, dropped out of the race — is Britain’s second female prime minister after Margaret Thatcher, who held office from 1979 to 1990.
The last few weeks have been dramatic ones in British politics, with Brexit setting off a domino effect of politicians falling by the wayside — Cameron resigned, allies stabbed likely successor Boris Johnson “in the back,” and leadership contender Leadsom threw in the towel amid controversial motherhood comments.
May has a daunting job as prime minister, facing pressure from the EU to start Brexit negotiations, salvage a plummeting economy and unite a divided nation.
What lies ahead for May?
May will need to form a Cabinet — speculated to include many female ministers and a designated Brexit minister.
She took the first step in that process shortly after assuming the mantle. She named ex-Foreign Minister Philip Hammond the chancellor of the Exchequer, a position that oversees the British Treasury, according to a statement from 10 Downing Street.
Hammond replaces George Osborne, who has resigned from the government. More ministerial appointments will be announced Wednesday evening.
She is also expected to meet Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in the coming days, with Sturgeon telling a press conference Wednesday that Brexit “does not apply to Scotland, as Scotland voted differently in the referendum.”
Scotland bucked the national trend for the referendum, with 62% voting to remain.
Along with overseeing EU negotiations, May will need to unite a nation deeply divided over the referendum where 52% voted to leave and 48% to remain.
Not to mention a Conservative Party whose infighting over Europe prompted Cameron to call a referendum in the first place — much to his spectacular downfall.