LONDON—British Prime Minister Theresa May is filling more Cabinet posts Thursday as she assembles a government that includes prominent anti-EU figures in key international roles.
The best-known appointee is new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a surprising choice to be Britain’s top diplomat. The former mayor of London was a leader of the “leave” campaign, and is internationally famous — but for rumpled eccentricity and distinctly undiplomatic gaffes, rather than statesmanlike behavior.
In April, Johnson suggested that U.S. President Barack Obama had an “ancestral dislike” of Britain because he is part-Kenyan.
Johnson said he was “very excited” to be part of the government. Asked whom he would apologize to first, he said “the United States of America will be at the front of the queue.”
New Treasury chief Philip Hammond reassured a startled world that Johnson — whose responsibilities include oversight of the MI6 spy agency — would be a team player
“The Cabinet works collectively and we have got a range of different characters and a range of different styles and a range of different talent,” he told BBC radio. “The lead and the tone will be set by the prime minister.”
Lesser-known than Johnson but at least as important to Britain’s future is David Davis, the cumbersomely titled Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Davis, a veteran lawmaker who has twice run for the Conservative leadership, is one of the staunchest euroskeptics in British politics.
He is also a formidable battler, as May knows. For years the libertarian Davis has sparred with May over the powers of Britain’s spy agencies. He is currently suing the British government in the European courts against surveillance laws May introduced as home secretary.
Davis has previously said that Britain should take a “brisk but measured” approach to exit talks with the EU. He has said that Article 50 of the EU constitution — the formal trigger for two years of negotiations — should be invoked by the start of 2017.
New Treasury chief Hammond tried to sound a reassuring note Thursday, pledging that he would not introduce an emergency national budget — even though there are question marks hanging over the economy following the country’s decision to leave the EU.
Hammond offered calming tones to the markets and the public in a series of interviews the morning after taking office.
“The number one challenge is to stabilize the economy, send signals of confidence about the future, the plans we have for the future, to the markets, to businesses, to international investors,” Hammond told Sky News. “Britain is open for business. We are not turning our back on the world.”
Hammond will meet with the head of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, on Thursday to “assess where we are.”
The comments come ahead of a decision by the central bank’s Monetary Policy Committee on whether to stimulate the economy. Carney has already indicated that some sort of stimulus will be offered during the summer months as his pre-vote warnings about the impact on the economy had begun to crystallize.
One course would involve a reduction in the bank’s benchmark interest rate from the current record low of 0.5 percent, where it has stood since the depths of the financial crisis in March 2009. Such a cut would boost lending and shore up household spending, helping to offset at least part of the Brexit shock.
The bank could also re-start the so-called quantitative easing program under which it effectively pumps money into the economy via the purchase of government bonds from financial institutions.
Hammond acknowledged that investment in Britain had been shaken since the referendum result.
“There has been a chilling effect,” he told the BBC. “We have seen an effect in markets, we have seen business investment decisions being paused because businesses now want to take stock, want to understand how we will take forward our renegotiation with the EU, what our aspirations are for the future trading relationship between Britain and the European Union.”