Theresa May set for House of Lords after receiving honour in dissolution list

Theresa May is set to take a seat in the House of Lords after revealing that she would be standing down as the Tory MP for Maidenhead earlier this year.

Lady May, as the 67-year-old former prime minister, will now be known, occupied Downing Street from 2016 to 2019, a period of extraordinary tumult in British politics in the wake of the Brexit vote.

When she entered No 10 in 2016, Lady May was seen as the “safe pair of hands”, expected to successfully negotiate a departure agreement with the European Union.

Steely and principled with the brisk, no-nonsense air of a school headmistress, she had already survived six years as home secretary, the longest holder in more than 60 years of an office traditionally regarded as a political graveyard.

Branded a “bloody difficult woman” by her former cabinet colleague Ken Clarke, she embraced the jibe saying that was exactly what the country needed as it entered talks with Brussels.

However, she proved unable to bridge the bitter divisions opened up within the Conservative Party and in the country at large by the referendum.

Having supported Remain – albeit with little visible enthusiasm – she was never fully trusted by Brexit ultras.

Theresa May
Former prime minister Theresa May dancing at a Conservative Party annual conference (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

In Europe, her perceived intransigence and lack of “soft” diplomatic skills meant she struggled to build the kind of alliances which might have smoothed the UK’s departure.

After seeing her proposed withdrawal agreement with the EU roundly defeated three times in the Commons, she finally announced she was quitting in a tearful statement on the steps of Downing Street.

“I have done my best,” she said, but admitted it had not been enough.

Lady May never really recovered from her disastrous decision to call a snap general election a year after entering No 10.

Prime Minister’s Questions
Former prime minister Theresa May announcing her resignation alongside her husband Philip May (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

She had hoped to capitalise on her early popularity, but instead saw her majority wiped out after an ill-judged campaign which saw the hasty withdrawal of the so-called “dementia tax” manifesto pledge.

It gravely undermined her authority and left her reliant on the votes of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists to prop up her government.

Initially she delighted Brexit supporting Conservatives with her insistence that Britain would not remain part of the EU single market or customs union.

But her plan for Britain to remain close to EU regulations in a order to maintain the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic – a key element of the Good Friday peace agreement – proved hugely controversial.

An instinctively private woman, as prime minister she at times appeared to struggle with the additional scrutiny the top job brought – her sometimes awkward and stilted manner leading to her being dubbed “the Maybot”.

On the international stage, she won kudos for the way she stood up to Vladimir Putin after the Salisbury nerve agent attack when Russian agents tried to murder former spy Sergei Skripal.

But her reputation as home secretary was tarnished by the Windrush scandal, with her policy of creating a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants blamed for the mistreatment and wrongful deportation of scores of those who had come to the country legally from the Caribbean in the years following the Second World War.

Theresa May
Former prime minister Theresa May (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Away from politics, Lady May was known for her love of fashion, particularly her trademark kitten heels.

From 2012 onwards, she required daily insulin injections after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes – in No 10 she would order staff to bring her Jelly Babies when her blood-sugar levels dropped.

Born on October 1 1956 in Eastbourne, Sussex, Theresa Brasier was the only child of Church of England clergyman Hugh Brasier and Zaidee Mary.

A studious, bookish girl, she grew up in rural Oxfordshire where, by her own admission, she was something of a “goody two shoes” – once confessing that the naughtiest thing she had done was to “run through fields of wheat” to the annoyance of local farmers.

After a grammar school education, she gained a place to read geography at St Hugh’s College, Oxford University.

There she met her future husband Philip May after they were introduced by Benazir Bhutto, the future prime minister of Pakistan.

Following graduation, the couple both took jobs in banking, with May (they married in 1980) initially going to the Bank of England before becoming a financial consultant at the Association for Payment Clearing Services.

She secured her first elected position as a Tory councillor in the London Borough of Merton in 1986, going on to become chairman of education and deputy Conservative group leader.

Former prime minister Theresa May
Former prime minister Theresa May is presented with a cricket shirt at a game of street cricket on Downing Street (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

After twice standing unsuccessfully for Parliament, she finally won the newly-created seat of Maidenhead in Berkshire in the 1997 general election only to see the Tories turfed out of office in a Labour landslide.

She nevertheless soon caught the eye of party leader William Hague who made her shadow spokeswoman for schools, disabled people and women, before promoting her to shadow education secretary.

Mr Hague’s successor, Iain Duncan Smith, made her Conservative Party chairwoman and gave her the chance to really make her mark with the wider public.

In a famous speech to the 2002 Tory Party conference, she warned they needed to shed their reputation as the “nasty party”.

After she toiled in a series of less high-profile shadow cabinet roles, David Cameron made her home secretary in the new Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition government in 2010.

She was seen to have thrived in one of the toughest jobs in government, gaining plaudits for securing the deportation of the radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada and resisting US demands for the extradition of computer hacker Gary McKinnon.

After Lord Cameron decided to stage a referendum on Britain’s EU membership, Lady May came out for remain.

Former prime minister Theresa May
Former prime minister Theresa May walks through the Members’ Lobby at the Palace of Westminster ahead of the State Opening of Parliament in 2023 (Hannah McKay/PA)

The unexpected vote in favour of Leave resulted in Mr Cameron’s abrupt resignation, followed by a chaotic contest to find a successor.

After Boris Johnson’s dramatic withdrawal, Michael Gove’s elimination and remaining rival Andrea Leadsom pulling out after controversial comments about the importance of motherhood, Lady May was elected unopposed.

She moved swiftly to stamp her own mark on government, vowing to tackle the “burning injustice” holding back the poor, ethnic minorities, women and the working classes.

In the aftermath of the referendum, she was determined to show the UK’s impending withdrawal from the EU did not mean stepping back from the world stage.

She rushed to Washington in January 2017 to become the first foreign leader to meet new US president Donald Trump, only to suffer ridicule when he was pictured apparently briefly holding her hand.

The Tory conference that year was reduced to farce after a prankster handed Lady May a P45 on stage, she lost her voice, and ended her speech with letters falling off the backdrop behind her.

It was inevitably Brexit, however, which was to define her time in office.

The cabinet was summoned to the prime minister’s country residence at Chequers in July 2018 to endorse her blueprint for future economic relations with the EU.

However, it resulted in the resignations of foreign secretary Mr Johnson days and Brexit secretary David Davis, two of more than 50 ministers to resign during the course of her three-year tenure in No 10 – more than half over Brexit.

The mood within the Tory party was becoming ever more rancorous and that December she had to fight off a no-confidence motion by rebellious MPs.

When her Brexit plan was finally put to MPs in January 2019, it was defeated by a majority of 230 – the biggest government defeat in modern political history.

Two more votes followed with two more heavy defeats for the government, and when talks with the Labour Party to find a cross-party way forward collapsed, she announced her resignation.

Despite the humiliating circumstances of her departure, Lady May chose to carry on as a backbench MP in Parliament, emerging as a periodic critic of her successor Mr Johnson including over the partygate scandal.

Detailing her exit from the Commons, Lady May said causes such as tackling modern slavery were taking an “increasing amount” of her time.

But her political legacy will chiefly be remembered as one dominated by wrangling over Brexit.