As Theresa May became Britain’s Prime Minister Wednesday, the world is one step closer to being run by women.
May joins German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who leads Europe’s largest economy and has worked to unify the continent in the face of a multitude of recent global crises, as a woman governing a major European country. And if Hillary Clinton is elected president in November, three of the world’s most influential nations would be run by women for the first time.
May is the U.K.’s second female prime minister, the first being Margaret Thatcher, who lead the country for over a decade until 1990. A Clinton presidency would be a milestone for the United States, which has never had a woman lead the nation.
Regardless of who is in charge, the U.S. and U.K. have long had a “special relationship,” uniting on international issues like nuclear diplomacy with Iran, sanctioning Russia and coordinating a campaign against the Islamic State group. The depth of that relationship was highlighted last week with the release of the Chilcot Report, which examined then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to join President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq over a decade ago.
Frances Burwell, a vice president at the Atlantic Council who studies the European Union, said the “bromance” between Blair and Bush led the British prime minister to declare to the president that “I will be with you, whatever,” drawing Britain into the catastrophic American war.
“Theresa May is such a negotiator who’s always cognizant of her position,” Burwell said of the former home secretary. “She would never have made such a statement.”
Burwell said Clinton, who is thought to be more of a hawk than President Barack Obama, likely wouldn’t change much about the way the U.S. works with Britain and Germany on key global issues. Burwell doesn’t think having a woman as commander in chief would necessarily affect decisions about war and use of force.
While secretary of state, Clinton pushed Obama to use military airstrikes on Libya.
“We don’t know until she’s president, if she’s president,” Burwell said. “As a woman, I think it would be fantastic if we had Merkel, May and Clinton. That would just be such a change in terms of perceptions and glass ceilings. I don’t think it would change the actual policies.”
May and Merkel are likely to experience a bumpier relationship, as May is tasked with ushering the U.K. out of the European Union aftrer its referendum voting to leave the regional bloc. Merkel opposed Brexit and has said the process to disentangle the U.K. from the EU must begin immediately.
“I don’t think it’s always going to be easy for them just because they’re both women,” Burwell said. “They both focus on the interest of their country in a very pragmatic way. I think we’ll still see some very real challenges.”
Although May herself voted for Britain to remain in the EU, she has said “Brexit means Brexit,” indicating she intends to carry out the will of the people to divorce from the bloc. But she has also said she doesn’t intend to rush the process.
Merkel, eager to begin talks, is waiting for May to act.
“We must now wait until Britain says what relationship it envisages with the European Union and then we will lead, in our interests, the best negotiations for our citizens in the 27 member states,” Merkel said. “We will have difficult negotiations with Britain, it will not be easy.”