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

Surrey man found guilty in West Kelowna killing of common-law spouse

Tejwant Danjou was convicted of second-degree murder in the July 2018 death of Rama Gauravarapu in West Kelowna

New collective debuts with Crescent Beach show

Nela Hallwas and Lyn Verra-Lay team for ‘Flow’

Former students’ mural showcasing Delta elementary school’s new logo on hold, for now

Ashriya and Karam Purewal painted the spirit logo last spring; formal logo mural delayed due to COVID

Police ask for help to identify suspect in alleged Surrey break-and-enter

Surrey RCMP say two men ‘kicked down the front door’ of the home

Surrey monitoring traffic as vehicles again clog city streets

Compared with city’s 2019 weekly average, deepest volume reduction was in late March with up to 46 per cent less vehicles

578 British Columbians currently infected with COVID-19

Seventy-eight new cases confirmed in past 24 hours

Conservation seizes fawn illegally kept captive in Vancouver Island home

A Comox Valley resident charged and fined under the Wildlife Act

Pandemic could be driving more parents to get on board with flu shot: study

University of B.C. study gauges willingness for parents to vaccinate children for influenza

Watchdog clears Okanagan RCMP in death of man after arrest over alleged stolen pizzas

The man died in hospital after having difficulty breathing and broken ribs

35,000 doses of fentanyl part of huge Maple Ridge bust

Largest seizure in RCMP detachment’s history included submachine gun, body armour

Have you seen Berleen? B.C. pig destined for sanctuary goes missing

Berleen was less than two weeks from travelling to Manitoba when she vanished

Health Canada says several kids hospitalized after eating edible pot products

People warned not to store cannabis products where children can find them

‘It’s not just about me’: McKenna cites need to protect politicians from threats

Police investigation was launched after someone yelled obscenities at a member of McKenna’s staff

Michigan plans dedicated road lanes for autonomous vehicles

First study of its kind in the U.S. to figure out whether existing lanes or shoulders could be used

Most Read