Departing British Prime Minister David Cameron told his successor on Wednesday (13 July) to “be as close to the European Union as we can be”, as he handed over the reins of power to Theresa May.
Cameron – stepping down after losing the June Brexit referendum – praised May as a “brilliant negotiator”. That skill is likely to be needed as she ponders both when to trigger Article 50, and the British government’s set of demands and concessions to the remaining EU 27.
May, a long-serving home secretary, travelled to Buckingham Palace on Wednesday evening to be formally appointed by the Queen, ahead of announcing her expected cabinet.
Her only public statements on the EU negotiations was to declare, after winning the Conservative party leadership earlier this week, that “Brexit means Brexit”.
May, who herself backed the UK remaining in the EU, has previously indicated she would not trigger Article 50 – the two-year leaving negotiation process – until the new year, although that was before she won the leadership.
In his final question and answer session in the House of Commons, Cameron said he would “miss the roar of the crowd and the barbs from the opposition” that came with the job over the past six years.
“My advice to my successor, who is a brilliant negotiator, is that we should try to be as close to the European Union as we can be, for the benefits of trade, of co-operation and of security,” he said.
She is expected to begin announcing her cabinet choices before the day is out, including a Brexit minister in charge of securing a new trade and travel deal with the EU.
May, 59, now becomes Britain’s second female prime minister, after Margaret Thatcher.
EU leaders have said they expect May to move quickly, and French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced they will hold a summit in August on the vote.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, meanwhile, has already warned May that Brexit should not apply to Scotland, which voted in every region to remain in the EU.
“Theresa May said in her view Brexit means Brexit. I respect that she has a mandate for that as England and Wales voted for it,” Sturgeon told reporters in London.
However, “Brexit doesn’t mean Brexit for Scotland because Scotland didn’t vote for Brexit”, she said. “For us, Remain means Remain.”
Sturgeon said she had a mandate to “to respect the wishes of the people of Scotland to find a way of keeping Scotland within the EU or protecting our relationship with EU”.
She cited the cases of Jersey and Guernsey – British crown dependencies off the French coast which are not part of the UK or the EU, but which are treated as part of the European free trade zone.
“An outcome which is different for Scotland than for the rest of the UK is not beyond the wit of us to come up with,” Sturgeon said.
— Jean-Claude Juncker (@JunckerEU) July 13, 2016
May, after appointing her Cabinet, faces several tough dates in her calendar. The upcoming Conservative party conference in October will see Leave members pressure her to trigger Article 50, is she has not already.
She will meet with the other EU 27 leaders at the European Council summit on 21-22 October.
The EU 27 will have already met without Britain in Bratislava on 16 September to discuss the future of the union.
France’s presidential elections in April-May 2017 and Germany’s elections for chancellor in August-October 2017 could further hold up the Brexit process.
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) July 13, 2016