May shakes up British government to prepare for Brexit

New Prime Minister Theresa May showed a ruthless streak on July 14 in building a cabinet to lead Britain's exit from the European Union, while her finance minister said he would do whatever was necessary to restore confidence in the economy.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at 10 Downing Street, in central London July 14, 2016. (Photo: Reuters)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at 10 Downing Street, in central London July 14, 2016. (Photo: Reuters)

A day after replacing David Cameron, May moved to impose her authority by axing a handful of prominent ministers including Justice Secretary Michael Gove, a leading 'Brexit' campaigner who had staged his own bid for prime minister. Her most contentious appointment is Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who compared the EU's aims to those of Hitler and Napoleon during the campaign leading up to Britain's vote last month to quit the 28-nation bloc.

The surprise choice drew a withering response from French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who described the former London mayor as a liar. Three weeks after the referendum, May's new government faces the formidably complex task of extricating Britain from the EU - itself reeling from the shock of Brexit - while trying to protect the economy from feared disruption to confidence, trade and investment.

The Bank of England kept interest rates unchanged on Thursday, wrong-footing many investors who had expected the first cut in more than seven years. But it said it was likely to deliver a stimulus in three weeks' time to support the economy, once it has assessed the fallout from the June 23 vote. The pound rose sharply on the news, while shares fell.

New finance minister Philip Hammond signaled he would take a less aggressive approach to cutting the budget deficit than his predecessor George Osborne, who was dumped on Wednesday. 

May, who had favored a vote to stay in the EU, must now decide when and how to start official divorce proceedings from the other 27 countries, who are pressing her to move quickly to lift the uncertainty now hanging over them all. In her first words to the nation on July 13, she promised to champion social justice and to help ordinary Britons in their struggle to make ends meet.