Theresa May to Step Down As UK Prime Minister, Eyes June 7 Departure
Theresa May announced Friday morning that she will step down as the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party leader June 7, conceding defeat in her years-long attempt to take Britain out of the European Union.
May’s voice cracked as she made a televised statement outside 10 Downing Street, announcing she’d decided to leave the job it was “the honor of my life to hold.”
As her husband Philip and several aides looked on, May noted she was Britain’s “second female prime minister, but certainly not the last.”
“I leave with no ill-will, but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love,” she said.
Although May said she will stay on as caretaker prime minister until a successor is chosen, her announcement effectively fired the starting gun for the race to become the country’s next prime minister.
The early front-runner appears to be Boris Johnson, a former foreign secretary and strong champion of the U.K. departure from the European Union.
On Friday the frequent May critic posted a tweet thanking the outgoing prime minister for her “stoical service to our country and the Conservative Party.”
He continued: “It is now time to follow her urgings: to come together and deliver Brexit.”
Johnson, always outspoken, is one of Britain’s best known politicians and is believed to enjoy strong support from rank-and-file Conservative Party members.
He was a key leader of the campaign that in 2016 convinced a majority of British voters to cast ballots in favor of leaving the European Union. He resigned as foreign secretary in July 2018 citing his unhappiness with May’s Brexit plans.
Other contenders include Andrea Leadsom, an outspoken supporter of Brexit, who resigned her post as leader of the House of Commons to distance herself from May in anticipation of a second run for the party leadership.
May defeated Leadsom in a two-woman race in May 2016 when the party leader post was last open.
In a tweet of her own, Leadsom commended May for her “dignified speech,” calling it “an illustration of her total commitment to country and duty.
“She did her utmost, and I wish her all the very best,” Leadsom said.
Then there’s Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary, who resigned last November over a policy rift with May. At the time he said he couldn’t “in good conscience” support the deal May had reached with EU leaders about the terms of Britain’s withdrawal.
Another possibility is Jeremy Hunt, a former foreign secretary who backed the “remain” side during the 2016 referendum on leaving the EU, but has since become a staunch Brexiteer; then there’s Sajid Javid, the home secretary. The son of Pakistani immigrants, he enjoyed a successful career in banking with Chase Manhattan and Deutsche Bank before entering politics and winning election to Parliament in 2010.
Like Hunt, Javid was also on the “remain” side during the referendum, but has since become more amenable to Brexit.
Upon learning of May’s decision to step aside, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker praised the outgoing prime minister as “a woman of courage” for whom he has great respect.
He went on to say he will “equally respect and establish working relations” with the new UK prime minister, “whoever that might be.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted May’s decision “with respect,” a German government spokesperson said.
The future of the Brexit process now depend on domestic political developments in the UK, she added.
“Germany continues to wish for an orderly British exit from the EU. This would require a successful vote in the House of Commons,” she said.
French President Emmanuel Macron sought “rapid clarification” from Britain on what it wants from Brexit.
In a statement released by the Elysee Palace, Macron said he stands ready to work with a new British prime minister, but that “the principles of the EU will continue to apply, with the priority on the smooth functioning of the EU.”
May became prime minister the month after Britons voted in June 2016 to leave the European Union, and her premiership has been consumed by the attempt to deliver on that verdict.
Pressure had been mounting on May to step down for weeks following her failure to take Britain out of the EU on the scheduled date of March 29.
And May vowed to fight on. Her decision to leave was prompted by Leadsom’s abrupt departure and the almost certain rejection of a bill she planned to put before Parliament in a fourth attempt to secure Parliament’s backing for her Brexit blueprint.
Britain is currently due to leave the EU on October 31.
Of the issue that consumed her tenure as prime minister, May said Friday that she is “as certain today as I did three years ago that in a democracy, if you give people a choice you have a duty to implement what they decide.”
“I have done my best to do that. But it is now clear to me that it is in the best interests of the country for a new prime minister to lead that effort.” she said.
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