Theresa May will become Prime Minister of Britain today

Theresa May will be Britain`s second ever female prime minister. Photograph:( Getty )

AFP London, UK Jul 13, 2016, 01.02 PM (IST)
Theresa May will become Britain's second ever female prime minister on Wednesday when David Cameron steps down after a seismic referendum to leave the European Union that sent shockwaves round the world and wrecked his career.

Cameron is to hold his final weekly question-and-answer session in parliament before tendering his resignation to Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

The monarch will then call on May, currently, the interior minister, to form a government and the newly-anointed prime minister will make a statement outside her new Downing Street residence.

European leaders have asked the government to move quickly to formalise its divorce from the EU but May has indicated she will not be rushed into triggering the formal procedure for Brexit.

The 59-year-old vicar's daughter, who will be Britain's second female premier after the steely Margaret Thatcher with whom she is often compared, must also attempt to bridge Conservative Party divisions and deal with a potential economic downturn.

Her other daunting challenges include keeping pro-EU Scotland from bidding for independence in order to stay in the 28-nation bloc and weaving new global trade and diplomatic alliances to prepare for a post-Brexit future.

For The Guardian daily, "she comes to office at a time that would have challenged a Churchill."

May campaigned, albeit it quietly, with Cameron for Britain to stay in the EU and she will have to convince eurosceptics within her party and the country at large that she has no intention of ducking out of implementing the June 23 vote to quit the bloc.

"Brexit means Brexit -- and we're going to make a success of it," the politician, who is reputed for being a tough negotiator, has said.

After six years in office, Cameron announced he would resign the day after the vote. He will chiefly be remembered for organising a referendum aimed at stopping his party "banging on about Europe" and then spectacularly failing to clinch it.

He sought to deflect that criticism in an interview with the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, saying: "As I leave, I hope people will see a stronger country, a thriving economy and more chances to get on in life.

"It has been a privilege to serve the country I love."

May's bid for his job accelerated as key proponents of Britain`s EU withdrawal, including charismatic former mayor of London Boris Johnson, stepped back in a head-spinning round of political bloodletting. 

The vote exposed deep inequalities in British society, which May has promised to address, and upended the political scene, tipping her Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party into turmoil.

Labour's embattled leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was accused of failing to persuade working-class voters to back EU membership, is now also embroiled in a bitter leadership contest of his own. 

On Wednesday, Owen Smith became the second candidate after fellow MP Angela Eagle to join the race to try unseat the veteran socialist.

"I will stand in this election and I will do the decent thing and fight Jeremy Corbyn on the issues," Smith told the BBC.

May, meanwhile, is expected to begin announcing her cabinet picks later Wednesday, including a Brexit minister in charge of leading negotiations with the EU. 

Women are expected to scoop several top jobs, media reports said on Wednesday.

Among those tipped for senior roles are current energy minister Amber Rudd, foreign minister Philip Hammond, Brexit campaigner Chris Grayling, who is the Conservatives` House of Commons leader, and Justine Greening, international development secretary.

Investors will be watching May's first days in office closely but with greater optimism after the value of the pound, which fell by up to 15 percent against the dollar and the euro in the days of the Brexit vote, rebounded on news of her impending promotion.

"Theresa May's virtual 'coronation' as prime minister has delivered a boost to the pound as the clouds of uncertainty following the Brexit vote start to disperse," said market analyst Neil Wilson at ETX Capital, a financial trading company in London.

May has been a tough-talking interior minister for the past six years and is something of an unknown quantity internationally, although she has received ringing endorsements from party colleagues and a normally sceptical British tabloid press.

She is also liked in and around Maidenhead, the well-to-do commuter town west of London that she has represented in parliament since 1997.

"She will get this country back on its feet," said 69-year-old Jim Charlesworth, a neighbour of May and her banker husband Philip.

Martin Trepte, editor of the Maidenhead Advertiser, the local newspaper, said: "She's a mature, grown-up, no-nonsense politician. She knows her stuff." 

The daughter of a Church of England pastor, May is a cricket fan with a sober, well-mannered demeanour who lists her hobbies as cooking and walking.

She shows a flash of flamboyance with a colourful shoe collection -- particularly her leopard-skin heels -- which has become famous in the British press.