Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May, the bookmakers’ favourite to replace David Cameron as prime minister, said there was no going back on Britain leaving the EU, but that divorce talks would not start until the end of the year.
Launching her leadership bid, May said there would be no second referendum on EU membership, nor any bid to rejoin, and she also ruled out any immediate tax rises.
“Brexit means Brexit,” said May, 59, who backed the Remain campaign ahead of last week’s referendum, though she kept a low profile.
“The campaign was fought, the vote was held, turnout was high and the public gave their verdict,” she said.
“There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door, and no second referendum.”
As Britain reels from the decision to leave the EU, speculation has grown that whoever takes over from Cameron might try to find a way to keep the country in the bloc, which buys nearly half of the country’s exports.
Bookmakers make May the favourite to succeed Cameron, with polls suggesting she is also the choice of Conservative Party members, who will make the final decision once lawmakers have narrowed the field to two candidates.
May said there should be no national election before 2020, the scheduled date for the end of the current parliament, because it would add to the instability caused by Brexit.
She also ruled out an emergency budget, a proposal made before the referendum by finance minister George Osborne.
She also said no decision should be made on whether to invoke Article 50, the formal process of leaving the EU, until Britain had a clear negotiating strategy.
“[This] means Article 50 should not be invoked before the end of this year,” she said.
The state-school educated daughter of a Church of England vicar, whose background contrasts with Cameron and Johnson — both educated at Britain’s most exclusive school, Eton College — May set out a stall to appeal to ordinary Britons.
Having once described Conservatives as “the nasty party”, she said not everyone in Westminster understood the hardships working-class people faced, adding the government had to work for all, not just the privileged few.
She also distanced herself from Cameron and Osborne’s plan to turn Britain’s budget deficit into a surplus by the end of the decade.
“While it is absolutely vital that the government continues with its intention to reduce public spending and reduce the budget deficit, we should no longer seek to produce a budget surplus by the end of the parliament,” she said.
“If before 2020 there is a choice between further spending cuts, more borrowing and tax rises, the priority must be to avoid tax increases, since they will disrupt consumption, employment, and investment.”
Osborne’s push for a surplus by 2020 had looked increasingly challenging even before the referendum result which could push Britain’s economy into a recession.
May has impressed many Britons and colleagues with her handling of security issues as interior minister for the last six years — the longest period in the job of any politician for a century — and said her strength was “getting on with the job”.
“I know I’m not a showy politician,” she said, later dismissing a suggestion from a journalist she bore similarities to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
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