Theresa May must deliver Brexit, which 48% of Britons didn't vote for
Not all bad news -- new UK PM will also inherit Downing Street cat
For someone lacking in theatricality, Theresa May has become the last woman standing in a political drama of Shakespearean proportions.
Wednesday she’ll take center stage as Britain’s new prime minister – following a Brexit vote which saw David Cameron resign, likely successor Boris Johnson “stabbed in the back” by allies, and leadership contender Andrea Leadsom throw in the towel amid controversial motherhood comments.
Topping May’s unenviable to-do list as prime minister will be delivering Brexit – in a country where 48% of the voters didn’t ask for it.
Here’s a look at what awaits the country’s new leader.
Strike a Brexit deal
Despite being part of the Remain camp in the run-up to the referendum, May will push ahead with the UK’s divorce from Europe – “Brexit means Brexit,” she said in typically no-nonsense style.
The new prime minister must tread a difficult path between accessing Europe’s tariff-free single market, appeasing Leave voters’ immigration concerns, and keeping on friendly terms with European neighbors.
May will also be under pressure from EU leaders to make the separation snappy, with union leaders refusing to negotiate until Britain invokes Article 50 – thereby making the withdrawal official.
May says she’s ready to roll up her sleeves for the daunting job ahead, reportedly telling colleagues: “Ken Clarke (Conservative politician) says I’m a bloody difficult woman.
“The next man to find that out will be Jean-Claude Juncker (president of the European Commission).”
Unite a divided nation…
The referendum result – 52% Leave, 48% Remain – highlighted a stark ideological divide cutting through Britain.
London and Scotland bucked the national trend – voting Remain 60% and 62% respectively – prompting some to call for their separation from the rest of the UK.
While Scotland voted to remain part of the UK in 2014, with 55% of people voting against independence, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has now said another independence referendum could be on the table following Brexit.
May has so far ruled out a general election before 2020. Though whether she’ll be able to heal the rift within the country without the mandate of its people remains to be seen.
…And a divided party
May’s bid for the top job was fast-forwarded at breakneck speed on Monday after her sole rival – Andrea Leadsom – dropped out of the race.
The vote between May and Leadsom was supposed to go to the wider Conservative Party of 150,000 people, with the results announced on September 9.
By being the lone candidate, May sidestepped the party rule – and packed her bags for 10 Downing Street this week.
Boris Johnson, tipped to replace Cameron until he also ducked out of the race last month, was one of the high-profile members of parliament who backed fellow Leave campaigner Leadsom.
The new prime minister must now unite a party whose infighting over Europe prompted Cameron to call a referendum in the first place – much to his spectacular downfall.
Fix the economy
A top priority for the new prime minister will be making sure Britain’s economy doesn’t fall into recession.
The British pound crashed to its lowest levels in 31 years following the referendum, though it does appear to be climbing back.
Britain’s credit ratings also tanked – Fitch and S&P both issued downgrades, and Moody’s lowered the outlook for UK banks to negative.
Meanwhile, rumors are swirling that multinational companies may leave the UK, taking jobs and money with them.
May also will need to control the kind of racist attacks which emerged in the days following the referendum.
Anti-immigrant leaflets saying “Leave the EU - no more Polish vermin” appeared on cars in Cambridgeshire in the east of England.
The Muslim Council of Britain also released a gallery of “100 hate incidents” it had taken from social media.
However there’s also been shows of solidarity with the country’s immigrant population – people have been using the hashtag #postrefracism to share instances of racial abuse, and wearing safety pins to highlight support.
Win over the Downing Street cat
Emerging unscathed from the political turmoil will be Larry the Downing Street cat, who thankfully will keep his job as “chief mouser” when May moves in.
Larry was brought in to tackle the building’s rodent problem, after a rat was seen scurrying in front of the prime minister’s front steps during a live TV broadcast in 2011.
As Larry doesn’t belong exclusively to the Camerons, he’ll be staying on at No. 10 indefinitely – which is more than can be said of most British politicians.
CNN’s Angela Dewan, Bryony Jones, and Ben Westcott contributed to this report.