Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday she’ll step down on June 7, succumbing to calls in her governing Conservative Party to make way for a new leader to try to break an impasse over Britain’s departure from the European Union.
“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,” May said.
May was once a reluctant supporter of EU membership who won the top job in the turmoil that followed the 2016 Brexit vote. She’ll step down with her central pledges — to lead the United Kingdom out of the bloc and heal its divisions — unfulfilled.
May endured repeated crises and humiliation in her efforts to find a compromise Brexit deal that Parliament could ratify, and bequeaths a deeply divided country and a political elite that is deadlocked over how, when or whether to leave the EU.
After announcing her resignation, May became visibly emotional as she said it had been “the honour of my life” to serve “the country that I love” before returning to the prime minister’s office at 10 Downing Street.
Watch Theresa May announce she will quit as U.K. leader:
Pressure on May to quit over her failure to get Parliament’s approval for a European Union divorce deal reached a critical point this week as House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom quit and several cabinet colleagues expressed doubts about the Brexit bill.
With her authority draining away by the hour, May on Thursday delayed plans to publish the EU withdrawal bill — her fourth attempt to secure Parliament’s backing for her Brexit blueprint.
May will stay as caretaker prime minister until the new leader is chosen. The leadership election is likely to last about six weeks, starting on June 10, after U.S. President Donald Trump’s state visit to Britain.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said he felt bad for May.
“I like her very much. She is a good woman. She worked very hard.”
Ireland wary as leadership candidates emerge
Boris Johnson, the face of the official Brexit campaign in 2016, is the favourite to succeed May. Betting markets put a 40 per cent implied probability on Johnson winning the top job. Others tipped by betting markets are Dominic Raab, a Brexit supporter and former Brexit secretary. Betting markets put a 14 per cent implied probability on his chances.
Leadsom, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt each have a seven per cent probability, according to betting markets.
Here are some of the likely leadership hopefuls:
The election of a new prime minister may lead to a new phase in Brexit negotiations that could be “very dangerous” for Ireland, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Friday.
“We may see the election of a Eurosceptic prime minister who wants to repudiate the withdrawal agreement and go for no deal, or we may even see a new British government that wants to see a closer relationship with the EU and goes for a second referendum,” Varadkar told Ireland’s Virgin Media News.
“But whatever happens, we are going to hold our nerve. We are going to strengthen and build our alliances across the European Union, and we will make sure that we see Ireland through this.”
Juncker takes in news ‘without personal joy’
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker says he considers May as “a woman of courage for whom he has great respect.”
EU spokesperson Mina Andreeva said Juncker watched May’s announcement that she will step down “with emotion” and it was “without personal joy.”
She said Juncker will “equally respect and establish working relations” with May’s successor. Britain currently faces an Oct. 31 deadline to leave the EU.
Samuel Tombs, chief U.K. economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said “changing the leader won’t alter the maths in Parliament.” He said he expects Britain will remain stuck in political stalemate for at least another year, requiring an extension to its Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has noted “with respect” May’s decision and will continue to work closely with her successor for an “orderly exit.”
Merkel’s spokesperson, Martina Fietz, told reporters the chancellor and May always “worked together in a good and trusting” relationship and would continue to do so while May remains in office.
French President Emmanuel Macron praised May’s “courageous work” on Brexit and said, “It’s too soon to speculate on the consequences of this decision.
“France is ready to work with the new British prime minister on all European and bilateral issues,” Macron said.
New PM won’t have easier time with Brexit
The European Union will not offer whoever takes over as British prime minister a better Brexit deal, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Friday.
“From my perspective, I don’t see the European Union offering any new prime minister a better or very different deal to what was on offer to Theresa May,” Coveney told Ireland’s Newstalk radio station after May on Friday said she would quit.
“This idea that a new prime minister will be a tougher negotiator, and will put it up to the EU and get a much better deal for Britain? That’s not how the EU works.”
The pound and British stocks rose after news of May’s resignation, as some investors appeared to hope it could unblock the political stalemate over Brexit, though analysts warn it could simply mean another delay to the EU departure.
The pound rose to $1.2715 US on Friday from $1.2660 before the announcement. The FTSE 100 stock index was up 0.6 per cent.