David Cameron chaired his final cabinet meeting on Tuesday after six years as Britain’s prime minister, with incoming premier Theresa May preparing to form a new government to deliver Brexit.
May led tributes to Cameron at the meeting, which was described by ministers as “emotional”, and posed for photographers on the steps of the premier’s 10 Downing Street residence afterwards.
Cameron’s end has come sooner than expected after dramatic twists in the contest to replace him led to his swift exit from power less than three weeks after the nation’s seismic vote to quit the European Union.
May is already under pressure to set out a timetable for Brexit from EU leaders who warn that a delay could prolong damaging economic uncertainty.
“That’s what I think a lot of people expect and hope and call for,” the European Commission’s economy chief Pierre Moscovici said in Brussels.
Meanwhile Jean-Claude Juncker’s spokesman insisted the European Commission chief “can cope” with negotiations with May, who on Sunday warned he was about to find out how “difficult” she can be.
On a visit to the headquarters of the governing centre-right Conservative Party she now leads, May issued an appeal for unity to push through Britain’s exit from the EU.
“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.
She dismissed call for an early general election to secure her own personal mandate.
“Let us redouble our efforts. And let us make sure we put this time to good use, to build the support we need to go to the country in four years’ time, and not just win, but win big,” she said.
Cameron announced he would step down after leading the failed campaign for Britain to remain in the EU, in the June 23 referendum.
Home Secretary May, the interior minister, was declared the new Conservative leader on Monday after junior energy minister Andrea Leadsom, her only remaining challenger for the post, withdrew from the contest.
– May mulls cabinet picks –
May is facing questions on when she plans to trigger Article 50 — the formal procedure for withdrawal from the EU — which would set a two-year deadline for completing exit negotiations.
While May supported Britain staying in the bloc, she maintained a low profile during the referendum campaign and insists she will honour the popular vote, stressing on Monday: “Brexit means Brexit”.
Cameron was to face MPs in parliament for a final time on Wednesday in the weekly prime minister’s questions session, before meeting Queen Elizabeth II to tender his resignation.
The monarch will then invite May, the leader of the majority party in parliament, to form a fresh government.
May, 59, will become Britain’s second female prime minister after Conservative titan Margaret Thatcher.
As she fills the major roles in her government, May will have to keep Leave-supporting Conservative heavyweights onside if she is to heal the splits in the party caused by the referendum.
One key figure who will be staying on in 10 Downing Street is Larry the cat, the Cabinet Office confirmed.
As Cameron visited a school set up by teachers in 2012 to highlight one of the his government’s major reforms, a van full of removal men arrived at Downing Street who began unloading moving boxes.
On the markets, the pound rebounded against the dollar, shooting back above $1.30 on the political developments — although it pushed London’s FTSE 100 share index slightly down compared to Tuesday’s opening level.
– Labour opposition in turmoil –
Meanwhile, Tuesday was proving a landmark day for the main opposition Labour Party, whose embattled leader Jeremy Corbyn — hugely popular with grassroots members — is facing a leadership challenge from Angela Eagle after losing the confidence of at least 75 percent of his MPs.
The party’s ruling National Executive Committee was in lockdown deciding whether incumbent Corbyn needs, like Eagle, to secure the support of 20 percent of fellow party MPs and members of the European Parliament to get his name on the leadership contest ballot.
The party’s rules are ambiguous, but lawyers for one NEC member have threatened an immediate High Court injunction if Corbyn is not automatically put on the ballot.
Eagle urged Corbyn to “get control” of his supporters after a brick was hurled through her office window. Corbyn called for calm as he condemned the violence and intimidation surrounding the leadership challenge.