- Phil Noble/Reuters
- Philip May is Theresa May’s closest advisor and political ally but gets little media attention.
- The prime minister has been married to her husband since 1980, after they met at the University of Oxford.
- The one-time Oxford Union president has worked in the City for over three decades.
- Philip has been linked by Labour to the Paradise Papers tax avoidance scandal.
As well as being married to the prime minister, Philip May is also Theresa May’s closest and longest-serving political ally. Yet little is known about the man who most closely has the PM’s ear.
Theresa married Philip in 1980 after meeting at the University of Oxford, and the prime minister has described her husband as her “rock.”
He largely keeps a low profile, preferring to support May in her duties as prime minister.
However, he was thrown into the spotlight last week after Labour called for him to answer “serious questions” about his role at a firm linked to the Paradise Papers tax avoidance scandal.
So who is Philip May?
Philip May was born in Norwich in 1957 but grew up near Liverpool, attending the local Calday Grange Grammar School before going to Lincoln College, Oxford to study history.
While at university, Philip May was introduced to geography student Theresa Brasier by the future prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto.
Philip May went on to become Oxford Union president in 1979. Victoria Schofield, a predecessor as Oxford Union president in 1977 told the BBC’s “Newsnight”: “You might have thought Phil would go into politics.”
Stephen Brooks, a contemporary of Philip May at Oxford told the BBC: “He was very ambitious,” but “he wasn’t an exciting speaker.”
The pair married in 1980, and Philip May supported his wife through the tragedy of both her parents passing away when she was aged 25, the year after they had wed.
Theresa May, when interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s “Desert Island Discs” in 2014 said: “I had huge support from my husband, and that was very important for me. He was a real rock for me.”
Watch Theresa May and Philip May on “The One Show”
Theresa May on The One Show:There are “boy jobs and girl jobs” at home pic.twitter.com/IdKxOGVSvI
— Graeme Demianyk (@GraemeDemianyk) May 9, 2017
It was on a walking holiday in Wales with Philip May that Theresa May decided that she would call a general election, an election that lost the Conservatives 13 seats.
At the time Theresa May said: “Before Easter, I spent a few days walking in Wales with my husband, thought about this long and hard and came to the decision that to provide that stability and certainty for the future, this was the way to do it – to have an election.”
The couple rarely make media appearances together, so their appearance on “The One Show” during the 2017 general election campaign was notable.
Philip May said: “I do the traditional boy jobs by and large,” in the house, and admitted: “I quite like ties. Jackets, stuff like that. Normal.”
Move from politics to finance
Some of those in May’s circle assumed that it would be he who would be the one to go into politics. Interestingly he spoke at the 1986 Conservative Party conference in support of a motion calling for a closer political union in the predecessor to the European Union, the European Economic Community.
He said: “We need to strengthen the economic base of the community by breaking down barriers to the free movement of goods and services. Europe’s not just an economic community, it’s a political community too.”
However, Philip May embarked on a career in finance instead, first at stockbroker de Zoete & Bevan and then at fund managers Prudential Portfolio Managers UK and Deutsche Asset Management.
In 2005 he moved to investment management company Capital Group as a relationship manager where he reportedly works four days a week since Theresa May became prime minister in 2016.
Capital Group released a statement when Theresa May became prime minister that said: “His job is to ensure the clients are happy with the service and that we understand their goals.”
A senior executive in the City told the Financial Times: “He is very much a back-channel to City sentiment, he does understand business in a way that [Theresa May] has not experienced herself. You could say he comes across as a translator for the PM.”
- Leon Neal / Getty
Capital Group, where Philip works, was linked to the Paradise Papers scandal last week.
Leaked emails seen by Private Eye suggest that investment advisors Capital Group, where Mr May is a relationship manager, used offshore law firm Appleby to arrange investments in tax havens.
Capital Group’s Cayman Islands funds, CGPE V LLP and Capital International Private Equity Funds (CIPEF) V LP, invested in a Bermuda-registered South American agriculture company, called El Tejar, Private Eye reported. Both the Cayman Islands and Bermuda are offshore jurisdictions, known for their zero rates of tax.
Asked about Philip May’s role at the company, a spokesperson for the prime minister told Business Insider:
“Mr May is involved in the development of Capital Group’s retirement solutions. He is not an investor but consults with other Capital associates on retirement products and solutions for clients.”
Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, Jon Trickett, told BI:
“There are some serious questions for Philip May to answer about his firm’s use of tax havens, whether he had any knowledge of it and if he thinks this is an acceptable way to do business.”
He added: “Labour has previously asked Theresa May what her government plans to do to clamp down on the tax havens where money is squirrelled away to avoid paying taxes for public services in this country. When it comes to paying tax, there is one rule for the super-rich and another for the rest of us and, in refusing to act, the Prime Minister appears to condone this.”
Labour also want the Mays to answer questions about their use of a “blind trust” to handle their investments. A spokesperson for the PM was last week unable to say whether any of the investments in the trust are held offshore for tax purposes.
Asked to comment on the possibility that the Mays could have money invested offshore, they said: “The nature of a blind trust is just that.
“It is a well-established mechanism for protecting ministers in their handling of interests and it means they are not involved in any decisions on the management, acquisitions or disposal of items in the trust. By definition a blind trust is blind.”
Asked whether the prime minister had requested that the blind trust was ethical in terms of tax, they replied that they “have nothing more to add,” on the matter.