After nearly three years as Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May announced she will quit on June 7, in the face of mounting pressure to resign after her latest Brexit deal failed to pass parliament.
After trying and failing for three years to lead Britain out of the European Union, May’s resignation now paves the way for a contest to decide a new prime minister, hopefully by July, and a quick resolution to the Brexit mess.
The new deadline for Brexit that Brussels has set is October 31; this after British parliamentarians failed to agree on a withdrawal agreement by March 29.
If no Brexit deal is agreed to in the next five months, the UK will have to choose between either leaving with no deal, revoking Article 50, or begging the EU for another extension.
The unfinished legacy
In an emotional statement, the Conservative leader said on Friday she had done her best to deliver Brexit and it was a matter of “deep regret” that she had been unable to do so.
She outlined her supposed accomplishments in national finance, helping first-time buyers and the environment. She emphasised a “decent, moderate and patriotic Conservative government, on the common ground of British politics”.
May called for a country that could “stand together” before tearfully announcing, “I will shortly leave the job that has been the honour of my life to hold.”
May added she would continue to serve as PM even after June 7, while a Tory leadership contest takes place over the following week.
Frontrunners to succeed May
On Friday, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt joined the race to be Britain’s next PM, following Boris Johnson, Esther McVey, and Rory Stewart.
According to a YouGov poll, Johnson is considered favourite among conservatives to succeed May, followed by ex-Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, and Home Secretary Sajid Javid. A dozen other serious candidates may enter the fray.
Johnson eminently told an economic conference in Switzerland on Friday that Britain will leave the EU on October 31, deal or no deal. He further said it was best for the country to prepare for a no-deal scenario.
A no-deal Brexit is going to have the worst outcome for the world’s fifth largest economy, experts say.
The importance of a compromise
May, whose arrival and time at Downing Street was dominated by Brexit, said in her statement that she had done “everything” she could to convince MPs to support the withdrawal deal she had negotiated with the EU.
“Such a consensus can only be reached if those on all sides of the debate are willing to compromise,” she said.
Her revised Brexit plan, tabled earlier this week, received severe backlash because of conciliations aimed at attracting cross-party support, including provisions for a customs union with the EU. Experts believe she finally overreached in proposing to hold another public vote, which led to the resignation of at least two of her MPs this week.
Admitting defeat, she now advises her successor to build agreement in parliament, saying it is in the “best interests of the country for a new prime minister to lead that effort”.
Stepping down, she said, “I do so with no ill will, but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love.”
The second female prime minister, but certainly not the last, she added.
Hearing her voice crack when she signed off her resignation announcement, it was difficult not to feel sad about the fact that another woman’s time at the helm of the country was over—not to mention the fact that her tumultuous time in office will inevitably be used against other women in politics in the future, The Independent noted.
At the same time, her lies and unkept promises will be remembered just as much, with critics pointing out the similarities between her inauguration and resignation speeches, both stressing that Brexit is for the greater good and “profound change”, and that arriving at it requires compromise.
In reality, Brexit has tragically wiped everything else off the domestic agenda—there is no time or capacity to do anything about inequality, or industry, or the environment.
Response to resignation
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted: 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.
“Whoever becomes the new Tory leader must let the people decide our country’s future, through an immediate General Election.”
Messages commending May’s resilience, determination, and sense of duty came pouring in from colleagues in the Conservative Party, including Chief whip Julian Smith and Chancellor Philip Hammond.
Jeremy Hunt tweeted: “I want to pay tribute to the PM today. Delivering Brexit was always going to be a huge task, but one she met every day with courage & resolve. NHS will have an extra £20bn thanks to her support, and she leaves the country safer and more secure. A true public servant.”
May’s predecessor and former PM David Cameron who had campaigned for Remain and lost the referendum to her, said she should be thanked for her “tireless efforts”.
Despite “profound disagreements,” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon rightly said, “The prospect of an even more hardline Brexiteer now becoming PM and threatening a no-deal exit is deeply concerning.”
In an interview before May’s resignation, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker asked, “How could anybody else achieve what she couldn’t?” Following the announcement on Friday, he reiterated that this has no effect on the EU’s stance, assuring that he will equally respect and establish working relations with any new prime minister.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also responded to the news of May’s resignation, hoping these difficult transitions during Brexit will not affect bilateral ties. She promised that “the German government will do everything to achieve a good partnership, an orderly exit, and good co-operation,” regardless of what happens now in Britain.
In a statement, the Conservative Party said the likely timetable for the party leadership contest was that nominations would close during the week beginning June 10, with the process of whittling down candidates to the final two to conclude by the end of the month.
Those names would then be put to a vote of party members before the end of July.
Right now, in a hung parliament, the question is whether the next Conservative leader will be able to succeed where she failed.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.