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

Extreme winter weather leads to Monday school and bus route closures

BC Transit, School District 82 and Coast Mountain College all announced closures

Disrespectful that Horgan won’t meet during northern B.C. tour: hereditary chief

Na’moks said he was frustrated Horgan didn’t meet with the chiefs

BC Green Party leader visits Wet’suwet’en camps at heart of pipeline conflict

Adam Olsen calls for better relationship between Canada and First Nations

Another snowstorm expected for Terrace and Kitimat area

Wind is expected up to 80 km per hour

COLUMN | New year, new you: Make those changes stick

Wellness Matters by columnist Joelle McKiernan

Man dies in backcountry near Nelson’s Whitewater Ski Resort

The victim was found unresponsive in a tree well Friday

Cariboo Memorial Hospital back to normal after cold weather wreaks havoc

Burst pipes and water leaks cause three different incidents

Dog reunited with Tofino owner, months after being taken from beach

Shannon Boothman ‘ecstatic’ at pet’s return after a tip leads to social media search

Site of planned Jumbo Valley ski resort to be protected, managed by First Nations

Development rights permanently retired for site of proposed year-round ski resort west of Invermere

Huawei exec’s extradition hearing begins in Canada

China’s foreign ministry complained the United States and Canada were violating Meng’s rights

Prince Harry: ‘Powerful media’ is why he’s stepping away

Prince Harry and Megan have stepped away from their royal commitments

How to beat Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year

Multiple factors can play a role in seasonal depression, says Fraser Health psychiatrist

B.C. VIEWS: Few clouds on Horgan’s horizon

Horgan’s biggest challenge in the remainder of his term will be to keep the economy humming along

Most Read