Theresa May is preparing to promote a string of female Conservative colleagues, including into key cabinet positions, after she is invited by the Queen to form a new government on Wednesday.
Allies including Amber Rudd, currently the energy secretary, and Justine Greening, the international development secretary, are among those expected to be in line for prominent positions as the second female prime minister shakes up the team running the government.
The incoming prime minister will announce the reshuffle on Wednesday after she moves into Downing Street with her husband, Philip. May will take up residence at No 10 after an audience at Buckingham Palace where the Queen will confirm her new role.
Cameron will face the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in the House of Commons for one final prime minister’s questions before making his outgoing remarks on Downing Street. Sometime thereafter he will head to the palace to formally resign. May will make the opposite journey, meeting the Queen for the tradition of “kissing hands”, which usually involves a handshake. She will make her first speech as Britain’s 54th prime minister as she makes her way into Downing Street.
The appointments are intended to create a more gender-balanced cabinet, which has been called for by campaigners as a way to improve policymaking. Some of the most senior roles in the cabinet will be occupied by women. “It was Theresa who set up the campaign to elect more female MPs to parliament, and she has always believed that there should be more women in prominent government positions,” said a spokeswoman for May.
Speculation in Westminster suggested that a woman could be under consideration for the role of chancellor for the first time, although the frontrunners so far include the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, and Chris Grayling, leader of the House of Commons.
Cameron had made some progress with the gender balance during previous reshuffles, with his final senior team having seven women serving as full members, almost a third of the total. But May intends to go further: other women tipped for ministerial promotions include Harriett Baldwin, Margot James and Karen Bradley, who worked with May at the Home Office as head of the modern slavery bill.
On Monday, May delivered a speech about social justice that included an attack on the government’s industrial strategy, widely interpreted as a swipe at George Osborne. Some were suggesting that he could be moved from the Treasury to the Foreign Office.
Officials within the Home Office suggested Grayling could become home secretary, although Rudd is considered a contender to succeed May in taking responsibility for immigration policy.
It was unclear whether May would keep Michael Gove in his job as justice secretary following a number of clashes under Cameron’s premiership. However, she is likely to try to unify a party divided by the EU referendum campaign and appoint some senior Brexit campaigners such as Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, Andrea Leadsom and Priti Patel alongside Grayling.
Cameron will bow out and make a speech in which he will hope to cement a legacy beyond the EU referendum, and will urge May not to drop the commitment to spending 0.7% of GDP on international aid.
May’s spokeswoman said work was already under way to set up a new department dedicated to negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU. “Civil servants have already been charged with finding a building to house the Brexit department – an indication of Theresa’s commitment to get on with delivering the verdict of the EU referendum. Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a success of it,” she has said.
The prime minister in waiting spent her final day as home secretary planning her entry into Downing Street and also addressing staff at the Home Office. She highlighted areas of policy reform including measures against terrorism and the investigatory powers bill, also known as the snooper’s charter.
May then told civil servants she believed the “social justice agenda” had been at the heart of her tenure, naming inquiries into the Hillsborough tragedy, undercover policing and child sex abuse as proud achievements. Telling officials that “there will always be a little bit of the Home Office inside me”, May said her department had focused on the most vulnerable in society.
May is expected to make the life chances strategy – a cross-government policy that Cameron hoped would be his flagship reform had he carried on as prime minister – a priority for the new government. The strategy is being led by the Department for Work and Pensions and includes reforms that affect a child’s earliest years, including access to high-quality childcare, a focus on schooling, university, rehabilitation for offenders and work opportunities.
Lauding the policy in cabinet, May then told Cameron that he had the “warmth and respect” of colleagues, and that he had led the country through a difficult time, with particularly tough economic circumstances.
Later, the incoming prime minister went to Conservative headquarters and told staff that it was “an honour and a privilege to be the new leader of this great party”. She thanked staff for their work and set out her priorities. “Now, more than ever, we need to work together, to deliver on Brexit, to build a country that works for everyone, and to truly unite our party and our country,” she said, attacking Labour as a party that had brought the country to bankruptcy.
In combative language, May claimed it did not matter whether Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or Jeremy Corbyn led the Labour party, because “when Labour prospers the country suffers”.
During her time as home secretary and as part of the coalition, May clashed with the then deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, particularly over the controversial snooper’s charter and other anti-terrorism legislation.
Alex Dziedzan, who worked for Clegg as an adviser, said: “There were lots of disagreements between Theresa May and the Liberal Democrats on asylum, immigration and issues involving human rights.
“But she is the toughest negotiator I have ever seen and she was the most formidable person we ever came across in government without a shadow of a doubt. I expect her to be much more forceful in delivering her policies than Cameron ever has been.”
James Cleverly, the Tory MP for Braintree, said he suspected it would be a “balanced cabinet”, arguing there were able people who satisfied a number of demographics. “Then you can stop thinking about tick-box exercises,” he said.
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