Britain’s new prime minister Theresa May will unify the United Kingdom as she leads the country out of the European Union despite deep splits in her party, prominent government minister Lord Tariq Ahmad has said.
The Conservative peer, who has known May for 25 years – going back to her days as a local councillor in Merton – told Eastern Eye she was an incredibly driven figure who was known on the world stage.
Speaking about May’s swift move into Downing Street on Wednesday (13) after her rival Andrea Leadsom dramatically quit the race Lord Ahmad said she was the right person to govern Britain because she had outlined a “bright and optimistic future for the UK”.
In his role at the Home Office, Lord Ahmad has worked on policies aimed at preventing extremism with May, the former home secretary, who has a reputation for being tough. He said she had the ability to bring focus to a team and made sure that people were accountable.
“She’s incredibly driven. I’m amazed by her resilience in terms of how many hours [she works] and the volume of work and diversity of issues she has to deal with,” he said.
“Working alongside her as I’ve done as a minister in her team, (I’ve seen) her capacity to deal with issues which are suddenly crisis situations, and her calm way of dealing with matters. She has a deep grasp of how to pull people together and have the right discussions at the right level to provide direction at the time of challenges.”
Lord Ahmad said she had an understanding of Muslim communities and why young people were susceptible to becoming radicalised.
“She understands why people go down this route and this means strengthening the way you work with these communities, the trust and the bridge you have to build with communities. Her view is very much on getting things done but on issues which require action, it’s also important to build coalitions.
“She believes Britain is enriched by communities and our different cultures.”
Writing exclusively for Eastern Eye this week, Lord Ahmad said in a comment piece: “Her record speaks volumes of her strength of character and ability to deliver. Yet leadership is about direction and vision. She has outlined a bright and optimistic future for the UK as we move to new role in the world outside the European Union… She is the leader who will unify the United Kingdom as a country that works for everyone.”
Following David Cameron’s final Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday (13), May was due to go to Buckingham Palace to see the Queen and receive her invitation to form a government.
She is the second female prime minister, following in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher who led the Conservative party in the 1980s.
Lord Ahmad explained that May was instrumental in his decision to join the Tory party because of her “one nation” ideology which complemented the values he grew up with.
In the coming weeks, May has a tricky task in uniting a divided Conservative party following the unexpected result of the EU referendum.
While she supported Britain staying in the bloc, she kept a low profile in the lead up to the vote and insists she will honour its outcome, stressing on Monday: “Brexit means Brexit.”
However, Lord Ahmad said the new prime minister was in no rush to trigger Article 50, because she wanted to provide certainty on the UK’s position.
He also believes that May is someone who could bring the Tories together again.
“For someone who believed strongly in fundamental reform of the EU, she was loyal to the decision of David Cameron,” he said.
“She was the only person who came out very clearly right at the beginning at the launch of her bid for leadership to say she will create a separate senior minister of cabinet rank who will lead on this (Brexit) and will come from those Conservative colleagues who were on the Brexit side.
“She’s recognised for who she is and what she is on the world stage. In establishing Britain’s position in the world stage in a post-EU world where Britain is no longer a member of the EU, we have someone who already has that stature, who is able to position the UK in that respect.”
May has already given some hints about what her key policies might be this week.
She has made it clear that she is interpreting the results of June’s referendum as indicative of wider disenchantment and inequality within British society.
“The referendum was a vote to leave the European Union, but it was also a vote for serious change,” she said earlier this week before she became the country’s new leader, in a speech that heavily criticised her own government’s economic policies. “This is a different kind of Conservatism,” May added.
Several commentators have said that her policies sounded similar to some put forward by the Labour party, while others said ironically, they resembled European corporate practices.
Leading up to the leadership election which was set to be held in September, May said she would crack down on curbing corporate excess. She called for greater transparency on bonuses and a system to ensure that “bosses’ incentives are better aligned with the long-term interests of the company and its shareholders”.
Another significant pledge was to include consumers and employees on company boards as part of a series of measures she said would help “put people back in control”.
May was set to announce the new appointments in her cabinet after Eastern Eye went to press on Tuesday, with Asian MPs Priti Patel and Sajid Javid expected to feature in her new team.