Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip leave a polling station after voting in the European Elections in Sonning, England, Thursday, May 23, 2019.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Theresa May to quit as party leader June 7, sparking race for new PM

The new Conservative leader will become prime minister without the need for a general election

Bowing to the inevitable, Theresa May announced Friday that she will step down as U.K. Conservative Party leader in two weeks, admitting defeat in her attempt to take Britain out of the European Union and sparking a contest to replace her as prime minister.

May said she will quit as head of the governing party on June 7 but stay as caretaker prime minister until the new leader is chosen, a process the Conservatives aim to complete by late July.

READ MORE: UK leader Theresa May makes final push on EU divorce deal

The new Conservative leader will become prime minister without the need for a general election, and will take up the task of trying to secure Britain’s exit from the EU.

May, who has been battling to unite her fractious party ever since she took the helm almost three years ago, said “I have done my best.” But she conceded that had not been enough.

Her voice breaking, May said in a televised statement outside 10 Downing St. that she would soon be leaving a job that it has been “the honour of my life to hold.”

May became prime minister the month after the U.K. voted in June 2016 to leave the European Union, and her premiership has been consumed by the attempt to deliver on that verdict.

May spent more than a year and a half negotiating an exit agreement with the EU, only to see it rejected three times by Britain’s Parliament.

Many Conservative lawmakers came to see May as the main obstacle to leaving the bloc, although her replacement will face the same issue: a Parliament deeply divided over whether to exit the EU, and how close a relationship to seek with Europe after it does.

Now she has quit over her failure to take Britain out of the EU on the scheduled date of March 29. Britain is currently due to leave the EU on Oct. 31, but Parliament has yet to approve divorce terms.

“I negotiated the terms of our exit and a new relationship with our closest neighbours that protects jobs, our security and our Union,” May said. “I have done everything I can to convince MPs to back that deal. Sadly, I have not been able to do so.”

“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 added.

Multiple contenders are already jockeying to replace her and take up the challenge of securing Britain’s EU exit. The early front-runner is Boris Johnson, a former foreign secretary and strong champion of Brexit.

Pressure on May reached breaking point this week as House of Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom quit and several Cabinet colleagues expressed doubts about the bill she planned to put before Parliament in a fourth attempt to secure lawmakers’ backing for her Brexit blueprint.

Leadsom, another likely contender to replace May, joined colleagues in paying tribute to the departing leader. She tweeted that May’s “dignified speech” had been “an illustration of her total commitment to country and duty. She did her utmost, and I wish her all the very best.”

Johnson, whose relentless criticism helped push May out of the door, tweeted: “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.”

But Johnson, or any other successor, will face a tough challenge to unite a country and a Parliament still deeply divided over the country’s relationship with Europe.

The next British leader is likely to be a staunch Brexiteer, who will try to renegotiate the divorce deal, and if that fails to leave the bloc without an agreement on departure terms.

Most businesses and economists think that would cause economic turmoil and plunge Britain into recession. Parliament has voted to rule out a no-deal Brexit, though it remains the legal default option.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, an opponent of Brexit, tweeted that May’s exit “will not solve the Brexit mess that the Tories have created. … The prospect of an even more hardline Brexiteer now becoming PM and threatening a no deal exit is deeply concerning.”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker praised May as “a woman of courage” for whom he has great respect.

EU spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said Juncker would”equally respect and establish working relations” with any new British leader. But the bloc insists it will not renegotiate the Brexit deal.

“We have set out our position on the withdrawal agreement and on the political declaration,” Andreeva said.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte tweeted that the “agreement reached between the EU and the United Kingdom for an ordered Brexit remains on the table.”

Angela Merkel’s spokeswoman, Martina Fietz, said the German chancellor noted May’s decision “with respect” and would continue to work closely with her successor for “an orderly exit.”

In an emotional departure speech, with close aides and her husband Philip looking on, May said “I will shortly leave the job that it has been the honour of my life to hold – 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.”

Associated Press writers Gregory Katz in London, Raf Casert in Brussels and David Rising in Berlin contributed

Jill Lawless, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Smithers woman awarded $55K in RCMP excessive force suit

Irene Joseph alleged false arrest and assault and battery related to a 2014 incident in Smithers

Cannabis shop soon to open in Witset

Indigenous Bloom shop to be followed by cannabis cultivation facility in closed down sawmill

Celebrations continue for Tsilhqot’in Nation after court victory against Taskeo Mines Ltd.

Supreme Court of Canada upholds 2014 decision rejecting New Prosperity mine on May 14, 2020

Orphaned bear cub named after Snowbirds Capt. Jenn Casey to be cared for in Smithers

Neighbours assist in capture of Tappen Triplets now in care of Northern Lights Wildlife Society

VIDEO: Procession to honour Snowbirds Capt. Jennifer Casey comes to Halifax

Snowbirds service member died in a crash in Kamloops one week ago

Bike shops busier than ever, but owners worry about stock supply issues

Uptick in cyclists brings new challenges for shops

RCMP facing ‘systemic sustainability challenges’ due to provincial policing role

Provinces, territories and municipalities pay anywhere from 70 to 90 per cent of the cost of the RCMP’s services

One man dead after standoff with Chilliwack RCMP

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the RCMP’s role in the death

B.C. employers worry about safety, cash flow, second wave in COVID-19 restart

A survey found 75 per cent of businesses worry about attracting customers

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

Ex-BC Greens leader Andrew Weaver says province came close to early election

Disagreement centred on the LNG Canada project in northern B.C.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money

B.C. premier says lessons to learn from past racism during response to pandemic

B.C. formally apologized in the legislature chamber in 2008 for its role in the Komagata Maru tragedy

Most Read