Theresa May on Friday announced her resignation as Conservative leader, clearing the way for a new UK prime minister to pick up the formidable challenge of delivering Brexit and reuniting a shattered Tory party.
Mrs May said in an emotional statement in Downing Street that she would resign as Tory leader on Friday June 7, triggering a contest to succeed her in which the Eurosceptic former foreign secretary Boris Johnson is favourite to win.
In comments that highlighted the consequences for Brexit, Mr Johnson said he was determined to leave the EU at the currently scheduled date, even if the UK failed to reach an agreement with the bloc in time.
“We will leave the EU on October 31, deal or no deal,” he said in a speech in Switzerland, adding that “of course” he would stand in the coming Tory leadership contest: “The job of our next leader has to be getting the UK properly out of the EU, putting Brexit to bed.”
Jeremy Hunt, Mr Johnson’s successor as foreign secretary, also said that he would stand in the leadership contest, telling an event in Surrey that it was “only right that my party constituency should be the first to know”.
Mrs May said she would continue in a caretaker role as prime minister until a new Conservative leader is elected. That process — involving Tory MPs and party activists — is expected to be wrapped up before the end of July.
The prime minister finally yielded to the inevitable in a statement in Downing Street on Friday just after 10am, following a meeting with Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs.
Sir Graham had made it clear that she stood no chance of winning parliamentary backing for her revamped Brexit deal and had lost the confidence of her party.
The prime minister admitted on the steps of Number 10 that she had been defeated by the challenge of delivering Brexit, having lost her parliamentary majority in the 2017 general election. “I did my best,” she said.
Mrs May put her Brexit deal to the House of Commons but was defeated three times, initially by the biggest majority against a government in history, as Eurosceptics, Remainers and Labour united against her plan.
As a result, Britain’s departure from the EU has been delayed twice since the original scheduled date of March 29.
“It is a matter of deep regret that I have not been able to deliver Brexit,” said Mrs May.
She added her legacy would include trying to make the UK a fairer place, improving the environment, building more homes and completing the task of eliminating the budget deficit, and suggested that her successor should stick to the centre ground.
“This is what a decent, moderate and compassionate Conservative government on the common ground of British politics can deliver,” she said.
The prime minister will formally resign as Tory leader on June 7 after taking part in D-Day commemorations in France and hosting Donald Trump on a state visit to the UK.
Nominations in the contest to succeed her will close in the week starting June 10, under a timetable announced by Tory party chairman Brandon Lewis along with the 1922 backbench committee.
That would lead to a new prime minister being picked by late July, just before parliament breaks up for the summer recess.
The Brexit saga has consumed Mrs May and her party, which faces a disastrous set of results in European Parliament elections that were held on Thursday but have yet to be declared. Dan Hannan, a Tory MEP, said he expected that not a single Conservative would be elected.