British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday said she would quit, triggering a contest that will bring a new leader to power who is likely to push for a more decisive Brexit divorce deal.
May set out a timetable for her departure: She will resign as Conservative Party leader on June 7 with a leadership contest in the following week.
“I will resign as leader of the Conservative and Unionist party on Friday, 7 June so that a successor can be chosen,” May said outside 10 Downing Street.
May, once a reluctant supporter of EU membership, who won the top job in the turmoil that followed the 2016 Brexit vote, steps down with her central pledges – to lead the United Kingdom out of the bloc and heal its divisions – unfulfilled.
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She endured crises and humiliation in her effort 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.
May’s departure will deepen the Brexit crisis as a new leader is likely to want a more decisive split, raising the chances of a confrontation with the European Union and a snap parliamentary election.
The leading contenders to succeed May all want a tougher divorce deal, although the EU has said it will not renegotiate the Withdrawal Treaty it sealed in November.
Reactions to May resignation
Britain’s anti-EU populist Nigel Farage, whose Brexit Party is leading opinion polls, blamed outgoing PM Theresa May for misjudging the mood of her country by trying to preserve close trade ties with the bloc.
“It is difficult not to feel for Mrs. May, but politically she misjudged the mood of the country and her party. Two Tory leaders have now gone whose instincts were pro-EU,” he wrote in a tweet, referring to May and her predecessor David Cameron.
Meanwhile, the European Union said on Friday that Prime Minister Theresa May’s resignation does nothing to change its position on the Brexit withdrawal deal that its members agreed with Britain.
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker noted May’s decision “without personal joy,” a spokeswoman said, adding that the council of EU leaders has “set out its position” on the Brexit deal.
For his part, President Emmanuel Macron wants to see a “rapid clarification” over Britain’s departure from the European Union after PM May announced she would step down next month, the French presidency said on Friday.
Macron hailed May for “courageous work” in seeking to implement Brexit in the interests of her country while showing respect for Britain’s European partners, the Elysee said in a statement.
But it added: “The principles of the EU will continue to apply, with the priority on the smooth functioning of the EU, and this requires a rapid clarification.”
Macron has taken a hard line on Brexit over the last months which has sometimes put him at odds with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has pushed for a more flexible stance.
While the Kremlin said on Friday that Theresa May’s premiership has been a very difficult time for Russia’s relations with Britain, according to AFP.
“Mrs. May’s stint as prime minister has come during a very difficult period in our bilateral relations,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
The acting spokeswoman for the Spanish government said that “a hard Brexit seems a reality that is almost impossible to avoid,” Isabel Celaa said in a press conference following a weekly cabinet meeting.
The Spanish government has contingency plans in place for all eventual outcomes over Britain’s planned exit from Europe, Celaa added.