New British PM May rounds out Brexit cabinet

AFP , Thursday 14 Jul 2016

Britain's new Prime Minister Theresa May speaks outside 10 Downing Street in central London on July 13, 2016 on the day she takes office following the formal resignation of David Cameron (Photo: AFP)

Theresa May was to spend her first full day as prime minister fleshing out her government on Thursday, after taking office pledging a fresh start as Britain heads towards the EU exit door.

May has rung the changes in appointing her first six ministers, including the surprise nomination of Brexit campaign figurehead Boris Johnson as foreign secretary and other "Leave" campaigners filling posts.

Now she is set to name the new ministers in charge of the important health, education, Scotland, work and business briefs.

May replaced David Cameron, who stood down Wednesday following the referendum in which Britain voted to leave the EU, sparking political turmoil, and volatility on the financial markets.

May, who had supported Britain's continued EU membership, appointed leading "Leave" campaigner Johnson to a senior cabinet post while moving quickly to heal divisions sparked by the referendum.

Choosing the eccentric former London mayor to represent the UK around the world got Britain's newspapers animated.

While Eurosceptic tabloids rejoiced, the Daily Mirror said the kingdom's credibility was left "hanging by a thread" by making the "gaffe-prone" Johnson Britain's top diplomat.

Meanwhile The Times said Britain was at a "turning point", with its wealth, stability and identity all at stake.

"Economic uncertainty lingers," it said.

The Guardian warned: "A fresh face won't make Brexit, the budget deficit or a tiny working majority disappear".

In an apparent attempt at a clean break, May ditched finance minister George Osborne, Cameron's closest ally.

She appointed former foreign secretary Philip Hammond to the Treasury job instead.

"Others will judge -- I hope I've left the economy in a better state than I found it," Osborne said.

May kept Michael Fallon as defence minister, while Amber Rudd was promoted to May's old interior minister job at the Home Office.

Eurosceptic former ministers David Davis and Liam Fox were appointed respectively as Brexit negotiator and international trade minister, two new posts reflecting changed priorities after the referendum.

EU leaders are pressing for a swift divorce following the Brexit vote, which sent shockwaves around the world.

May had a phone calls late Wednesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny.

May stressed her commitment to delivering Brexit but "explained that we would need some time to prepare for these negotiations and spoke of her hope that these could be conducted in a constructive and positive spirit", a Downing Street spokeswoman said.

May is something of an unknown quantity internationally, but European Council president Donald Tusk said he looked forward to a "fruitful working relationship".

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was ready for "constructive dialogue" with Britain's new premier, while White House spokesman Josh Earnest said US officials who had worked with May "found her to be quite effective".

A buoyant Johnson was putting a positive spin on Britain's post-Brexit opportunities.

"We have a massive opportunity in this country to make a great success of our new relationship with Europe and with the world," he said.

The financial markets will be watching May's first days in office closely but with greater optimism as the value of the pound, which fell by up to 15 percent against the dollar after the Brexit vote, has rallied in recent days.

On Thursday, the Bank of England will announce whether it will cut interest rates for the first time since March 2009 to curb the economic fall-out from Brexit.

May, 59, campaigned for the leadership of the governing centre-right Conservative Party as a safe pair of hands, after spending six years as home secretary, one of the toughest jobs in British politics.

She arrived at her new Downing Street residence with a promise to tackle "burning injustice".

"As we leave the European Union we will forge a bold new positive role for ourselves in the world," she said, flanked by her banker husband, Philip.

"And we will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few but for everyone of us."

The political disarray caused by the Brexit vote has also sparked a leadership challenge in the main opposition Labour Party.

Its embattled leader Jeremy Corbyn urged May to "abandon the destructive austerity policies which have damaged our economy and undermined living standards".

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