Who is our next prime minister Theresa May?

Home Secretary Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street, London, after the final Cabinet meeting with Da

Home Secretary Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street, London, after the final Cabinet meeting with David Cameron as Prime Minister. - Credit: PA WIRE

Theresa May earned a reputation as a safe pair of hands as she navigated a job often seen as a poisoned chalice to become the longest-serving home secretary for more than a century.

Now the 59-year-old vicar's daughter faces the toughest challenge of her political career and is set to arrive at Downing Street tasked with negotiating Britain's exit from the European Union.

Although she was signed up to the Remain campaign, Mrs May kept a very low profile during the lead-up to the vote.

But her reputation as a 'reluctant Remainer' has not saved her from attacks by rivals who insist that Brexit-backing voters will want a PM who actively campaigned to leave. And she has sparked controversy by saying she could not guarantee that EU citizens living in the UK would be allowed to stay after Brexit, insisting their fate must be part of negotiations with former EU partners.

She will now take charge of a party she once described as 'nasty' when she tried, as party chairman, to oversee modernisation. It is not the only time she has doled out some harsh truths with little sugar coating. Members of the Police Federation were stunned into silence when Mrs May attacked the organisation in a blistering speech.

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Hanging on to the home secretary brief, which notoriously ruins political careers, for six years shows her ability to navigate stormy political waters.

Securing the deportation of radical Muslim preacher Abu Qatada after a lengthy legal battle boosted her popularity among the party's rank and file. However, she has held the post at a time when net migration has reached record levels of about a third of a million, leaving the government under intense pressure over its target of reducing the figure to below 100,000.

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While her long track record in the senior echelons of British politics is well-documented, the famously private Tory lets little slip about her personal life. Earlier this month she revealed that she and her husband Philip were affected by not being able to have children but said it was just 'one of those things'.

Philip was her 'rock' when she mourned the death of her father, the Rev Hubert Brasier, in a car accident in 1981, and the loss of her mother months later.

Mrs May also told of her 'shock' three years ago after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which means she must inject herself with insulin at least twice a day for the rest of her life.

But the illness 'doesn't affect how I do the job', she insisted.

Politics is a 'way of life' that leaves little time for relaxing, but occasional mountain walks and culinary experimentation – she owns more than 100 cookbooks – are among her outside interests.

Mrs May is still a practising member of the Anglican church, but said it was 'right that we don't flaunt these things here in British politics'.

Educated at Wheatley Park Comprehensive School in Oxfordshire and St Hugh's College, Oxford, where she read geography, she embarked on a career in finance that included a six-year stint at the Bank of England. Elected to Merton Council in 1986, she later headed to Westminster as MP for Maidenhead in 1997.

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