Theresa May is effectively “Britain’s first Catholic prime minister”, the former education secretary Michael Gove has claimed.

In an article for the Times, Mr Gove, MP for Surrey Heath, said Theresa May was “an Anglo-Catholic rather than a Roman Catholic, but no less a Catholic for that”.

Mr Gove said that Mrs May, though an Anglican and the daughter of a vicar, drew deeply on Catholic social teaching in her approach to her office.

Mr Gove argued that the strength of this Catholic influence was shown when she appeared on the Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs, and chose two hymns including Therefore We, Before Him Bending, which is often sung during Benediction. He also noted that Mrs May had given up her favourite crisps for Lent, which seemed especially typical of “Catholic practice”.

Mr Gove said that Mrs May’s politics could best be understood in the light of the Church’s social teaching. He wrote that Catholic doctrine, like Mrs May’s “rhetoric and policy conversation”, emphasises “the cultivation of virtue rather than the exercise of liberty or the accumulation of prosperity as mankind’s goal.”

Mr Gove observed that Mrs May frequently appeals to the common good. Moreover, “her insistence on ‘an economy that works for everyone’ and referencing of ‘ordinary working families’ are straightforward expressions of the desire in Catholic social thought to view the economy through the prism of human flourishing, not statistical performance”.

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