A visibly emotional Theresa May announced her resignation on Friday morning as the United Kingdom’s prime minister, announcing that she will be departing 10 Downing Street without accomplishing her main goal of bringing the UK out of the European Union.
May has attempted several times to pass a Brexit plan in the halls of the Westminster parliament but to no avail, even when she promised she would resign in exchange for the signature legislation and offered compromises that even many in her own party would not support.
The prime minister’s departure triggers a leadership contest within her Conservative Party, a campaign that has been highly speculated about from the sidelines for weeks now. May will remain as PM while her political critics run to replace her.
A new leader will likely want a more decisive split which could cause a confrontation with the EU in Brussels and trigger a national election. A movement led by progressives in the Labour Party look to hold a second referendum and avoid leaving the world’s largest economic bloc.
“I do so with no ill will but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love,” said May at a podium in front of the building she has occupied since being elected in 2016 amid the post-Brexit referendum political chaos.
“It is, and will always remain, a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit,” the prime minister added in her six minute speech, adding that “if you give people a choice, you have a duty to implement what they decide.”
Official Opposition and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was quick to say that the new Conservative prime minister should hold an election to “decide our country’s future”. Should Labour win, it is likely that there would be a second referendum.
“Theresa May is right to resign. She’s now accepted what the country’s known for months: she can’t govern, and nor can her divided and disintegrating party,” Corbyn wrote on Twitter.
May’s premiership had been under serious strain since earlier this year when her government missed a critical March deadline for the UK’s departure from the EU. London had asked for an extension that the bloc granted until the end of October.
Boris Johnson, Esther McVey and Rory Stewart have all marked their intentions to run for the party leadership, according to local reporting, and the BBC reports that over a dozen other individuals are potentially entering the race.
The prime minister’s last-ditch Brexit plan as a deadline fast approached for departing the EU included several concessions that were aimed at gaining cross-party support in the House of Commons, including the possibility of a second referendum, but it did not have enough support.
It was a first referendum in 2016 that saw citizens across the United Kingdom cast just over 50 per cent of ballots in favour of leaving the European bloc. May initially maintained she wanted to honour the results of that first vote.
The Conservative parliamentary leader Andrea Leadsom quit her role on Wednesday because she believed the government would not longer “deliver” on the 2016 result.
Then, May met with two of her top cabinet ministers on Thursday. The home and foreign secretaries Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt both expressed concerns about her latest withdrawal legislation.
Saying that she had done “everything I can” to get House agreement enough to pass an agreement, May said it is in the “best interests” of the country for a new prime minister to find a way forward on the file.
“Such a consensus can only be reached if those on all sides of the debate are willing to compromise,” May added, emphasizing that any successor’s effort pass a leave bill would need to build bridges with members of parliament to get anything passed.
“I will shortly leave the job that it has been the honour of my life to hold,” May said as she concluded her resignation announcement, saying that she is the second PM “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.”