Britain’s second female prime minister has announced she will step down on June 7.
On Friday morning, May announced she would step down as Conservative leader on June 7. She will stay on as prime minister of the United Kingdom until her successor is chosen, May added.
The move came after a meeting with the chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of her Conservative party backbenchers, which last week had forced her to say she would announce her departure date in June.
In the end, May couldn’t hold on until June.
“I have done my best to implement the result of the referendum,” she said outside 10 Downing Street, which has been her home since shortly after the UK voted by a narrow margin to leave the EU.
“I have done everything I can to convince MPs to back my deal,” May added.
“It is a matter of deep regret that I have not delivered Brexit. My successor must find consensus in parliament.”
Race to replace
The race to replace her began a few weeks ago, with at least three leading Conservative figures openly declaring their candidacy for the leadership long before she had resigned.
But whomever replaces her will face the same parliamentary arithmetic which denied May an outright majority and a public greatly dissatisfied both with the delivery of Brexit and the state of the nation’s leadership more generally.
“I know the Conservative Party can renew itself in the years ahead,” said May.
Discontent had been rife within the Conservative Party, growing to unsustainable levels this week, with several key government and backbench figures calling for her resignation.
May’s days were numbered after concessions made to opposition politicians over her Brexit deal failed to win support among opponents, and left her own allies feeling betrayed.
She had tried three times to get parliament to agree to the deal negotiated with the EU. Her fourth effort was dead on arrival, despite offering a vote on a “confirmatory referendum” to attract support.
May’s deal had faced opposition on several fronts. Hardliners in her own Conservative Party said it didn’t go far enough, leaving Britain part of several European institutions and structures such as the Customs Union.
The DUP, on whose support May depended to command a majority in Parliament, said efforts to avoid a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – keeping Northern Ireland largely aligned with the EU until a new trade deal can be agreed, also known as the “backstop” position – undermined the integrity of the UK, creating a trade border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
And Labour, the principal opposition party, while politically committed to leaving the EU, also opposed the deal over issues of workers’ rights and those of EU nationals living in Britain and British nationals living within the EU.
The Green Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, meanwhile, all oppose Brexit outright.
Andrea Leadsom, a key ally in May’s cabinet, resigned on Wednesday night, and several senior figures were said to have had “frank” discussions with her on Thursday.
May concluded her speech with a litany of claims of her government’s achievements, before issuing a rallying call to future women leaders:
“[I was] the second female prime minister, but certainly not the last,” she said.
“It has been the honour of my life to serve the country that I love.”