It was a sunny afternoon on 22 May 2013 when my views on Theresa May truly crystallised. I was thinking about leaving London for home when I received a text from my office to say there was a serious incident in Woolwich, with a soldier down, possibly fatally. COBRA, the ad hoc committee that meets during emergencies was about to be convened – could I attend?
The prime minister was in France meeting the country’s president, and most of the government’s senior ministers were out of the capital. I arrived to find that it was just me, Theresa, the top brass and some junior ministers present.
The tragic death of Fusilier Lee Rigby is now a sad, familiar event to us all. But in those first few minutes and hours after the attack no one knew what we faced. The fear that another attack was imminent hung around the room. The prime minister was on his way back, but decisions needed to be taken immediately. So the home secretary took charge. She was calm, exact in her instructions and completely unflappable. Her authority was considerable and a source of reassurance to all in the room. Plans for all eventualities were put in place for David Cameron’s return. That’s Theresa.
It is through her experience as home secretary that Theresa has such a deep understanding of the seriousness of the threat radical Islam poses to the UK, Israel and wider international community. It will not be one that she takes lightly.
Theresa saw how terrorism affects Israel during her first visit to the country in the summer of 2014 when the bodies of the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped by Hamas were found. She personally saw how deeply the sad events affected the country and was absolute in condemning the act of terror, vowing that “Britain stands with Israel”. As a politician not known for hollow platitudes, Israel can rest assured that a UK led by Theresa May will be there in its moments of need.
One of the constants throughout Theresa’s political career has been her strong relationship with the Jewish community. Addressing Bnei Akiva’s Yom Ha’atzmaut event last year, she asserted that “the safety of the Jewish people can never be taken for granted” and “without its Jews, Britain would not be Britain”. She backed these words up by committing £11million to protect Jewish schools, synagogues and cultural centres.
As Parliamentary Chairman of CFI I look forward to working with Theresa and building on the already strong relationship between our two great countries.
Sir Eric Pickles is the Former Communities Secretary, and current Parliamentary chair of Conservative Friends of Israel.