Theresa May will resign as leader of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party on June 7, she announced on the steps of 10 Downing Street on Friday morning. She will remain Prime Minister until a new leader is chosen by her party, in a contest which will begin the following week and conclude some time in the summer.
She will have served as British Prime Minister for three years.
May was forced out by her own cabinet and wider party, who lost faith in her ability to deliver Brexit. The final straw came Wednesday, when May’s fourth attempt to put her Brexit deal to a vote was scuppered by her closest allies, who said they could not support her latest compromise that included a concession to let lawmakers vote on whether to hold a second Brexit referendum.
“It is in the best interests of the country for a new Prime Minister to lead,” May told cameras. “It is and will always remain a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit,” she said. “It will be for my successor to seek a way forward that honours the result of the referendum. To succeed, he or she will have to find consensus in Parliament where I have not.”
May became British Prime Minister in July 2016, after her predecessor David Cameron stepped down in the wake of the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union in the June 2016 referendum.
The former Home Secretary (Interior Minister), May had supported the ‘remain’ campaign in the referendum, but pivoted to a ‘leave’ platform as Prime Minister, promising to do all she could to make Brexit an opportunity for the country.
Perhaps the moment that defined her premiership came in April 2017, when she called a general election in a bid to increase her majority in Parliament in order to smooth the passage of Brexit legislation.
However May’s gambit, based on high polling data at the time, failed to pay off. In the June election, the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn staged a surprise resurgence, resulting in May’s Conservatives actually losing seats.
May’s majority after that was wafer thin — which further handicapped her ability to lead her divided party, irreconcilably riven over the issue of E.U. membership.
It was that divide that eventually brought May’s premiership to an end. That brings to four the number of consecutive Conservative prime ministers whose political careers have ended because of Europe: Cameron, John Major before him and Margaret Thatcher before him.
May was only the second woman Prime Minister Britain has ever had, after Thatcher.
“I will shortly leave the job that it has been the honor of my life to hold,” May said, visibly emotional as her speech drew to a close. “The second female prime minister, but certainly not the last. I do so with no ill-will, but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love.”
The race to succeed May as Prime Minister will now begin.
Contenders to replace May, many of whom have relentlessly criticized her for months, were united on Friday in praise of the Prime Minister’s dignity.
“A very dignified speech by Theresa May. An illustration of her total commitment to country and duty,” tweeted Andrea Leadsom, whose resignation as leader of the House of Commons on Wednesday evening precipitated May’s downfall. “She did her utmost, and I wish her all the very best.”
“A very dignified statement from Theresa May,” tweeted former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, the favorite among the party membership to replace May. “Thank you for your stoical service to our country and the Conservative Party. It is now time to follow her urgings: to come together and deliver Brexit.”
Foreign leaders began to pay tribute to May’s leadership on Friday morning, too. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said: “I got to know Theresa May very well over the last two years. She is principled, honourable, and deeply passionate about doing her best for her country, and her party. Politicians throughout the E.U. have admired her tenacity, her courage, and her determination during what has been a difficult and challenging time.”
May’s political opponents in other parties were less charitable. “It is difficult not to feel for Mrs May, but politically she misjudged the mood of the country and her party,” wrote Nigel Farage, whose Brexit Party is predicted to eat into the Conservative vote at E.U. elections held in the U.K. on Thursday, as May’s premiership was collapsing. “Two Tory leaders have now gone whose instincts were pro-E.U. Either the party learns that lesson or it dies.”
“Theresa May is right to resign,” said Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party. “She’s now accepted what the country’s known for months: she can’t govern, and nor can her divided and disintegrating party. Whoever becomes the new Tory leader must let the people decide our country’s future, through an immediate General Election.”
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