May, Theresa Mary

May, Theresa Mary, 1956–, British political leader, b. Eastbourne, Sussex, as Theresa Mary Brasier, grad. Oxford (1977). She worked for the Bank of England (1977–83) and the Association for Payment Clearing Services (1985–97) before she was elected as a Conservative party member to Parliament in 1997. She held several positions in shadow cabinets and served (2002–3) as party chairman. After David Cameron led the party to power in 2010, May served as minister for women and equalities (2010–12) and home secretary (2010–16).

In 2016 she succeeded Cameron as prime minister when he resigned after voters supported leaving the European Union. Despite having opposed “Brexit,” she promised to negotiate the Britain's withdrawal from the EU, and in 2017 officially notified the EU that Britain would began the process for leaving. May remained prime minister despite her party's loss of a majority in early elections in 2017; her minority government was supported by the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist party.

Negotiations concerning Brexit proved difficult, and in mid-2018 several supporters of a strong Brexit resigned from the cabinet as May pursued a more business-friendly approach. May subsequently survived a party leadership challenge (December). In Jan., 2019, she failed resoundingly to win approval for the Brexit terms she had negotiated, losing the votes of many of Conservative members, but also survived a no-confidence vote. Parliament then failed to approve her or any plan for leaving the EU. May was forced to secure a several-month delay to Brexit from the EU, and in July, having lost party and cabinet support, she was succeeded as party leader and prime minister by Boris Johnson.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: British and Irish History: Biographies