Brexit, fields of wheat and hostile environment: Theresa May's career in politics

As Theresa May announces she's stepping down as an MP after 27 years, Political Reporter Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe looks back at her political career

Words by Westminster Producer, Maya Bowles

Former Prime Minister Theresa May has announced she's stepping down as an MP at the next election, ending a 27-year career in Parliament.

Mrs May revealed her decision to stand down as MP for Maidenhead on Friday, saying she would focus on championing causes including the fight against modern slavery.

She's become known for a number of viral moments, including when she said the naughtiest thing she ever did was "run through fields of wheat", and some slightly awkward dance moves.

But her time as prime minister was also dominated by desperate attempts to deliver Brexit among Tory infighting, and the controversial "hostile environment" policy she brought in when she was home secretary.

Here's a rundown of the key moments in the former prime minister's career:


When Mrs May became prime minister in 2016, she took over from David Cameron who stepped down after Britain voted to leave the EU, despite campaigning to remain.

The challenge for Theresa May was then to deliver a Brexit deal that would satisfy both sides of the divided Tory party.

She was close to succeeding in 2018, after the Cabinet supported her deal that would give Britain continued access to the single market for for goods.

But days later she lost the support of her Brexit Secretary David Davis when he resigned, and his resignation was followed by that of Boris Johnson, her then foreign secretary.

In December 2018 MPs launched a vote of no confidence against her, which she won.

But opposition to her leadership remained strong, and she suffered a number of defeats in Parliament in 2019 when her deal was shot down twice by MPs.

Mrs May promised MPs she would quit if they approved her Brexit deal, but that failed and the deal was rejected for a third time, which meant she was forced to resign.

She delivered an emotional resignation speech on Downing Street, becoming close to tears as she expressed her "enormous and enduring gratitude, to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love".

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'Hostile environment' and the Windrush scandal

Mrs May was home secretary from 2010 to 2016, and became defined by the controversial "hostile environment" policy she announced in 2012.

She told the Telegraph her aim was "to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration".

This meant putting certain rules in place that made life difficult for people who couldn't prove their right to live in the UK, like making employers, landlords, NHS staff and other public servants check people's immigration status.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission said the measures broke equalities law, and negative consequences of the policy were "repeatedly ignored, dismissed, or their severity disregarded".

The hostile environment policy also led to the Windrush scandal, where hundreds of Caribbean people living in the UK were wrongly detained, denied legal rights, and threatened with deportation.

The Windrush generation describes people who arrived in Britain between from the Caribbean between 1948 and 1971.

Mrs May expressed regret for using the term "hostile environment" in her memoir released last year saying "it was not a good term to use", and blamed the Labour prime minister during the time the Windrush generation arrived for failing to give arrivals paperwork to prove their right to be here.

Grenfell Tower

Mrs May was prime minister when the Grenfell Tower fire claimed the lives of 72 people in June 2017.

She was criticised for her response to the tragedy, as she failed to meet the survivors of the blaze.

Mrs May met police officers when she visited the scene of the tragedy. Credit: PA

In 2018 she said she will "always regret" her immediate response, writing in the Evening Standard that: "What I did not do on that first visit was meet the residents and survivors who had escaped the blaze.

"But the residents of Grenfell Tower needed to know that those in power recognised and understood their despair.

"And I will always regret that by not meeting them that day, it seemed as though I didn't care", she said.

She was then labelled "disgraceful" by the firefighters' union for listing her response to Grenfell as a proud part of her legacy in her resignation speech.

Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigade's Union said she had delayed the inquiry, and "kicked scrutiny of corporate and government interests into the long-grass".

Funny moments

The former prime minister is also known for a number of awkward moments that went viral.

They include when she told ITV's Tonight programme the naughtiest thing she ever did was "run through fields of wheat" as a child.

She was then widely mocked for a clip of her dancing with school children during a visit to South Africa then went viral in 2018.

In October 2018 she used the beginning of her conference speech to make fun of her dancing in South Africa, dancing on stage to Abba's 'Dancing Queen' in her characteristically awkward way.

She also had a disastrous conference speech in 2017, when she was struck with a cough, the sign behind her fell down, and a prankster staged a stunt in which he handed her a P45.

After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 2022, Mrs May gave a speech in which she told an anecdote about how she once dropped some cheese in front of the Queen - the story was met with laughter in the Commons.

Earlier years

The daughter of a Church of England vicar, the former PM became involved with politics while studying Geography at St Hugh's College, Oxford University.

She met her husband Philip at a Conservative Association disco at Oxford.

Mrs May stood twice in North West Durham and Barking, before she was elected as an MP for the newly created seat of Maidenhead in 1997.

Her public profile was raised when she warned the Tories had become known as the "nasty party" during her conference speech in 2003.

Tackling modern slavery

In recent years the former PM has become closely involved with campaigning against modern slavery, leading the Global Commission on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking.

She's spoken out against government policy on asylum seekers, including criticising the government's Illegal Migration Bill in 2023 because she said it would "enable more slave drivers to...make money out of human misery".

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