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Stealth candidate Theresa May to be UK's next leader

Published:Tuesday | July 12, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May

After all of the flamboyant characters and very public back-stabbing in the race to become Britain's next prime minister, the winner turned out to be an understated workhorse who maintained a low profile throughout the campaign.

Home Secretary Theresa May, 59, is not well-known internationally, but she has served for six years in one of Britain's toughest jobs, playing an important role in counter-terrorism policy, and will now take charge of delicate negotiations to separate Britain from the European Union.

She was less visible - and less talked-about as a likely future prime minister - than Treasury Chief George Osborne and former London Mayor Boris Johnson, but she proved to be the stealth candidate, outmanoeuvring both in the intense competition to follow Cameron at 10 Downing Street.

During the EU referendum campaign, Osborne was passionate about remaining in the EU, and lost his leadership hopes when voters turned the other way. Johnson led the campaign to take Britain out of the EU, but never formally entered the leadership race because of dwindling support among his party's lawmakers.

By contrast, May stayed largely out of the referendum fray. She tepidly backed remaining in the EU in a single speech, then remained largely out of sight as the behemoths of the Conservative Party - including Cameron and Justice Secretary Michael Gove - did each other in.

"We do have this remarkable situation in British politics now where the people who led a fantastically successful campaign that got 17 million people to vote to leave the European Union have all but disappeared," said Anand Menon, Professor of European Politics at King's College London.