Theresa May's first task as British PM is naming a Brexit czar

Mrs Theresa May waves to the media from the front door of 10 Downing Street in London on July 12, 2016.
Mrs Theresa May waves to the media from the front door of 10 Downing Street in London on July 12, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - When Mrs Theresa May takes office on Wednesday (July 13), her most-watched act as British prime minister will be naming a Brexit Czar.

Extricating the country from the European Union will require finesse and force and whoever gets the job will need to be unswervingly loyal to the new leader and also have been a backer of the "Leave" campaign.

The formation of a new Brexit department with a secretary of state at its helm will be one of Mrs May's first announcements, her office said late Tuesday.

"It will require somebody that has an ability to hold lots of information, who can be on point, somebody who's got a quick mind, an iron will, a certain charm when they're negotiating," Ms Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, told reporters in Westminster.

"And somebody who enjoys the full, utter and complete trust of the next prime minister," she said.

Finding the right person to manage Britain's difficult divorce from the 28-nation bloc while calming volatile markets and a still-stunned electorate is 59-year-old May's most important task. The decision to call the EU referendum cost her predecessor David Cameron his job.

BREXITEERS ONLY

The appointment of a Brexit chief narrows the pool of candidates left for chancellor of the exchequer, Britain's finance chief. While bookmakers' favourite for that job is Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond - who made a speech to bankers last night - The Times of London reported on Wednesday that Energy Secretary Amber Rudd was the most likely choice.

Mrs May had promised that whoever she picks for the Brexit post will have been a bona fide supporter of leaving, which rules out candidates such as Business Secretary Sajid Javid and the current chancellor George Osborne.

One of the hardest parts of the job will be selling whatever deal is reached to those within the Conservative Party who, unlike Mrs May, campaigned for Britain to leave.

Brexiteers had told voters they would be able to stop the free movement of EU citizens into Britain while also keeping access to the EU's single market, an incompatible proposition that Mrs May also said is her priority.

Having a Brexit backer in charge of talks may help her deflect blame if she fails to deliver on those two fronts.

Fellow EU leaders have said they want talks to begin quickly, and for Britain to set out its demands. Mrs May, on the other hand, is in no hurry, and has said what she wants: market access without immigration. Slowing things down without upsetting negotiating partners will come under the purview of the Brexit minister.

GOODBYE CAMERON

Before she can get to work, Mrs May has to wait for Mr Cameron to formally end his six-year term. He will face questions in the House of Commons for the last time as premier at noon before travelling to Buckingham Palace during the afternoon to inform Queen Elizabeth II of his resignation. The Queen will then ask Mrs May to form a government.

That is when she will start to announce a handful of senior posts, from Wednesday evening through to the rest of Thursday.

More junior jobs can wait until Friday. Mrs May will seek to strike a balance between pro and anti-EU personnel and is expected to put women in key roles.

Along with Ms Rudd, International Development Secretary Justine Greening was tipped for a senior job in Wednesday's newspapers, including the Times, Guardian and Daily Mail. Employment Minister Priti Patel, who was a leading advocate for the Brexit campaign, may also be promoted, the Mail said.

"It was Theresa that set up the campaign to elect more female MPs to Parliament - and she has always believed that there should be more women in prominent government positions," her office said in an e-mail late Tuesday.

VANQUISHED FOES

Among those considered are high-profile Brexiteers, though they all come with baggage. Mrs Andrea Leadsom, the junior minister who dropped out of the Tory leadership race, has the Eurosceptic credentials but might not enjoy Mrs May's confidence after a detail-light campaign against her that collapsed within a week of its launch.

Former London mayor Boris Johnson was too disorganised to mount his own leadership bid, suggesting he would struggle with complex international diplomacy. Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who torpedoed Mr Johnson's ambitions and clashed with Mrs May when she was at the Home Office, might be deemed too Machiavellian to be trusted.

Former defence secretary Liam Fox and former home affairs spokesman David Davis might make the cut as prominent supporters who can please the Conservative Party's rank-and-file. But the Brexit backer who has May's full confidence is her campaign manager, Mr Chris Grayling.

NEW DIGS

In the meantime, the search is on for a building to house all the new employees, Mrs May's office said. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said recruitment is underway to staff it.

"The government is creating a new EU unit which will bring together the brightest and the best from Whitehall and the private sector, including lawyers, financial experts and trade experts," Mr Hammond told Parliament. "In the circumstances in which we find ourselves, facing the opportunities which we do now, recruitment of trade specialists whatever that costs us is likely to be an investment very well worth making."

Mrs May knows that as the negotiations move forward every twist and turn will be picked apart by all sides. The UK Independence Party, for one, will be waiting to pounce on voters who feel they are being sold short.

"There is a real danger for the government going forward that no matter what it is that they negotiate, there could be some form of betrayal narrative," Ms Davidson said.