5 issues Theresa May faces as Prime Minister

5 issues Theresa May faces as Prime Minister

With the British Parliament in Westminster returning from summer break, here are the issues the still relatively new Prime Minister Theresa May faces in both the short and long term.


Undoubtedly, the decision for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union is the most important challenge facing May. Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has not been triggered yet, meaning that the formal process for leaving the union has not begun. There have been numerous debates over when to actually start the process. No clear date has been set, with ideas ranging from the end of 2016 to after the German and French elections in 2017.

Furthermore, there are fierce divisions over whether it is worth sacrificing membership of the single market for the sake of having control over immigration. Currently, EU leaders such as Jean-Claude Juncker are indicating that if the UK wants to stay a member of the single market, they would also have to accept at least some form of freedom of movement. However, as the Brexit vote was largely decided on the desire to control immigration, if the government chooses to prioritise market access over migration limits, then popular backlash is likely to be strong.

May also faces issues over dealing with the conflicting ‘three Brexiteers’ of Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis. Already divisions seem to be emerging. Davis is expressing ideas about leaving the single market altogether. Meanwhile, Johnson is displaying confidence that a deal allowing the UK access to the single market, while allowing some freedom of movement, could be struck.

Ultimately it is clear that all three have varying viewpoints on how to proceed with Brexit, making negotiations with the EU difficult, resulting in frequent delays of the process.

Calls for snap election before 2020

Seeing as May became Prime Minister through an internal competition in the Conservative party, she is technically unelected into her position.

Just as Gordon Brown became Prime Minister in 2007, May is likely to face continuous calls to declare a snap general election. While she has made it clear that there will be no election before 2020, it is unlikely that she can maintain that stance politically.

Brown faced frequent criticism for his decision and his authority was arguably diminished because of it. His ultimate loss at the 2010 general election could also partly be attributed to this. May will have to make sure to manoeuvre around this issue in order to avoid the same fate.

However, unlike with Brown, May is opposed by a weak and divided Labour party. She would be vulnerable to criticism for not taking her opportunity to exploit the situation, if it turns out to damage her in the long run.


The issue of Scottish independence has not disappeared, even in the period after the 2014 independence referendum and before the EU referendum. For the Scottish National Party, independence has arguably been the ultimate goal.

With Scotland voting to stay in the EU but the UK voting to leave, the SNP now have credible ground to claim that the situation has dramatically shifted in the union and that a second referendum could be called. Indeed, the party had long been expressing this desire in the run up to the EU referendum and during the campaign.

Following the result, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made that clear and has expressed his intention to explore the options for a second independence referendum. May looks set to struggle to keep the Union together in the near future, with the sequence of the UK leaving the EU, and Scotland leaving the UK and then applying to join the EU now a very real prospect.

Infrastructure projects

May’s government has inherited two big infrastructure projects from her predecessors: Hinkley Point C and High Speed 2.

The first is the name for a planned nuclear power station funded by EDF and with some Chinese investment, based in Southwest England. While the Cameron government approved of the deal, once May came into power, she delayed the final decision on the deal until early autumn. The EDF and China both have significant political and economic interests in seeing this deal go through. Last week, the government announced the plan would go ahead, but a multitude of factors still complicate this matter, including the position of the trade unions, the monetary value of the project, and security and international relations.

The second main project is the proposed High Speed rail link between London and Birmingham. There has been an ongoing saga with this project, with frequent questions about its long term viability, in an age when technology is developing so rapidly.

While there is strong support within the government, there is pressure from outside to cancel the project on cost grounds, and because of anticipated effects on local towns and cities near the route. The recent resignation of the head of the project, Simon Kirby, is a further blow.

The May government is likely to delay the decision as much as possible until it can make a decision that does not hurt its credibility too severely.

Terrorism and security

As Home Secretary, this field was part of May’s mandate and she developed a reputation for being tough on both. From the Prevent strategy to tackle radicalisation to the so called ‘Snoopers Charter’, May demonstrated that she meant business when it came to keeping Britain safe, even if her decisions were often seen as controversial. May has not made any public indications as to how the government is going to precede. It is likely that they will proceed on the current course, given that she was the one behind the policies in the first place.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Rayhan Chouglay

Rayhan Chouglay is a GRI Analyst. He holds a BA in History from the London School of Economics with a particular focus on Hindu-Muslim relations in South Asia. His main political risk interests concern relations between India and Pakistan.