After weeks of turmoil following the European Union referendum, former Home Secretary Theresa May succeeded David Cameron and became the United Kingdom’s first female prime minster since Margaret Thatcher.
The 59-year-old, who is known for her steely determination, became the leader of the Conservative Party, and by default, the prime minister, when her only rival, Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom, dropped out of the race after realizing her competition was much stronger.
May said she was “honored and humbled” to be made leader of the party in a short statement in Westminster, England. She is the longest serving home secretary since Labour’s James Ede, but her time in the Home Office has not been free of controversy.
The British PM-in-waiting has a debatable human rights record. Although May, for a member of the Conservative Party, is considered progressive on a number of issues, a lot of people are concerned by her stance over immigration.
Her policies regarding immigration have been described as "draconian enough to be overruled by cabinet colleagues.”. One of her agendas, after she comes into power on July 13, would probably be to reduce the number of migrants to the U.K. from 330,000 to “tens of thousands.” She also wants to ban British citizens from bringing in their foreign born spouses or children unless they are able to meet specific financial requirements.
May has also supported shortening the time-frame during which women can legally get abortions in 2012. She voted for the abortion time limit to be decreased to 20 weeks in 2008 even though there was clear evidence that women in challenging situations might suffer as a result and last year advocated an anti-abortion bill that sought to criminalize women seeking abortion on the grounds of fetal sex.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, May voted against LGBT rights policies. Under her leadership, the Home Office required LGBTQ asylum seekers to prove their sexuality, even denying asylum to homosexuals, in some cases.
May, however, has been advocating for a narrower gender pay gap for years and recently pledged if she became prime minister, she would create more well-paid jobs and opportunity for female part-time workers to get full-time jobs.
On Dec. 29, the Home Office, under her rule, introduced a new coercive control law against domestic violence which imposes a penalty of up to five years jail time and a hefty fine for the offender.
However, the law only applies to British nationals and May has been mum in reference to the Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Center in the UK where many asylum seeking women are held in isolation, awaiting trial for an indeterminate length of time.
May was accused of allowing state-sanctioned abuse of women after it was discovered that guards at the detainment center were ordered to ignore women’s self-harm.
She has been known to change her stance in regards to university tuition fee. In 2004, she voted against raising the tuition cap fee but voted for it in 2010.
May is a strong supporter of Michael Gove’s free schools project, giving her opinion in a 2009 speech on allowing “educational charities, philanthropists, existing school federations, not-for-profit trusts, cooperatives and groups of parents to set up new schools in the state sector”.
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The Home Office also has a record of denying scientific research when it impacts their drug laws. Former deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg alleged May “didn’t like the conclusion” of a drug report released in 2014, which found no clear link between harsh drugs laws and illegal drug use.
May also proudly announced they had banned over 500 new drugs and made proposals to ban all “psychoactive substances” — including tea.
The home secretary has also been accused of expanding her own authority to breach the privacy of citizens while at the same time denying the public’s right to access government information. Last year, the Home Office refused to make May’s internet browsing history private by calling the request, “vexatious.” However, under the Investigatory Powers Bill announced by May, the browsing history of all U.K. citizens will have to be stored for a year which the security services will be able to access without any warrant.
May was severely criticized in April for saying Britain should exit from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). She argued it was causing big delays in the deportation of “extremists.” She also claimed the EHCR does nothing but “bind the hands of parliament,” a statement that Labor’s Charles Falconer described as “so ignorant, so illiberal, so misguided.”
But May has since then declined to pursue pulling out of the ECHR, not because she has had a change of heart, but because she believes she will never get a parliamentary majority for voting out of the convention.