Theresa May to resign, citing failure to deliver Brexit as ‘deep regret’

epa07596415 British Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the media to announcing her resignation outside 10 Downing Street, central London, Britain, 24 May 2019. Mrs May announced she will resign as Prime Minister on 07 June 2019 in the meantime triggering a leadership contest to succeed her as the leader of the governing Conservative Party. EPA-EFE/WILL OLIVER

Theresa May will resign as Conservative party leader on 7 June, bringing to a close a short but turbulent premiership that was dominated and ultimately destroyed by Brexit.

She will stay as caretaker prime minister until her successor is chosen, likely in July, and will welcome US President Donald Trump on his first state visit to London next week.

Speaking outside her Downing Street residence on Friday morning (24 May), a visibly emotional May said that serving as prime minister had been “the honour of my life”.

“It is and will always remain a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit.”

May’s resignation became inevitable after her proposal to table a new Brexit Withdrawal Bill and put her Brexit deal to a parliamentary vote for a fourth time was roundly rejected by her Conservative party.

May formalised her plans to step down after a meeting with Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the backbench Tory 1922 Committee, which had indicated that it would trigger a second vote of no confidence in her leadership if she refused to resign.

The Tories are expected to suffer a drubbing when the results of Thursday’s European elections are announced on Sunday, and could fall to as low as 7% of the vote.

On Thursday night, Dan Hannan, a Tory Brexiteer MEP, tweeted that the party would be “annihilated” and faced a complete “wipeout”, winning none of the UK’s 73 seats in the European Parliament.

May took over from David Cameron, who resigned immediately after the June 2016 referendum, in an uncontested leadership bid. But a gamble to cash in her 20 point opinion poll lead into a hefty majority backfired spectacularly in ill-judged early elections in June 2017.

Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn made surprise gains and left May reliant on the support of the Democratic Unionist Party.

That, combined with bitter internal divisions within the Conservative party, saw May repeatedly try and fail to come up with a Brexit plan that could command the support of her party.

After her Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, struck with EU leaders in November, was rejected by UK lawmakers for a third time on 29 March, May launched talks with Labour in a doomed attempt to broker a cross-party compromise deal.

May had promised radical reforms to the UK’s education and welfare systems, both of which foundered. But her premiership will be primarily defined by her failure to take the UK out of the EU, despite promising in the House of Commons more than 100 times that the UK would leave the bloc on March 29.

The leadership contest will formally begin on 10 June and is expected to last until late July.

Former Foreign Secretary and Leave campaign front-man, Boris Johnson starts as a favourite but will be challenged by potentially a dozen candidates.

Among current cabinet ministers, Rory Stewart has already said he will stand, while Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Penny Mordaunt and Sajid Javid are all likely contenders, along with Andrea Leadsom, who resigned from May’s government on Wednesday.

But whoever succeeds May will face the same difficulties posed by Brexit, and a rapidly closing window to get a Brexit deal passed by Parliament before the UK’s new planned exit date of 31 October. Failure to endorse the deal may result in a hard Brexit, unless EU leaders agree to a further extension.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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