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May’s emotional farewell kicks off battle for Tory leadership

Theresa May has given an emotional farewell to “the job that it has been the honour of my life to hold”, pledging to step aside as Conservative leader on 7 June and kicking off a frantic scramble to become Britain’s next prime minister.

Calling time on a turbulent three-year premiership punctuated by revolts and resignations, May said she would leave “with no ill will, but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love”.

The prime minister will remain in place until a new leader has been chosen by her party: a process senior Conservatives hope will be completed by late July.

Timeline

Theresa May resigns – what happens next?

24 May 2019

Theresa May announces she will step down on 7 June. Tory leadership hopefuls immediately begin jockeying for position.

26 May 2019

The European parliamentary election results to be announced, with the Tories expecting a disastrous result for the party. Some MPs have even suggested they may end up with no MEPs, with polls showing Conservative support to be under 10%.

3 June 2019

Donald Trump will arrive in the UK for a state visit. The US president, not known for his tact, will be spending time with the outgoing prime minister and the royal family during his visit.

6 June 2019 –
7 June 2019

The 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings will see May, Trump and other world leaders gather in Portsmouth and Normandy.

7 June 2019

Theresa May will formally resign as Conservative leader – officially triggering a leadership contest.

June 2019

Conservative MPs will whittle those standing to be leader down to two candidates in a series of votes overseen by the 1922 Committee. After each vote, the lowest-ranked candidate drops out of the race, until two contenders remain.

July 2019

A ballot of the 120,000 or so Conservative party members will choose between the final two candidates. All polling of grassroots Tories suggests that were he to be on the ticket, Boris Johnson would most likely win.

29 September 2019

The new leader will attend their first Conservative party conference as the prime minister.

31 October 2019

The UK will leave the EU without a deal, unless parliament and the new PM have either passed a withdrawal agreement, accepted another article 50 extension from the EU, or revoked article 50 altogether.

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Boris Johnson is the frontrunner to succeed May, but he will be one among a crowded field of contenders, with the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, declaring his candidacy on Friday. A host of others are expected to follow.

Johnson was quick out of the blocks after May’s resignation, insisting the UK must leave the EU on 31 October, “deal or no deal”, in an attempt to shore up his appeal to the right of the party.

With Nigel Farage’s Brexit party expected to perform strongly when the results of the European elections are revealed on Sunday night, prime ministerial candidates will come under intense pressure to take a tough stance on Brexit.

In her statement outside 10 Downing Street, May said: “It will always remain a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit”. She insisted, however, that she had pursued the right strategy until the end.

Timeline

Theresa May in power

14 July 2016

Prime minister

Theresa May becomes the UK’s second female prime minister. In her first cabinet, she appoints Boris Johnson as foreign secretary, David Davis as Brexit secretary, and Liam Fox as international trade secretary. 

17 January 2017

Lancaster House

May gives her Lancaster House speech outlining her approach to navigating Brexit. It sets out the red lines that will continue to cause difficulties with her own party two years later.

29 March 2017

Triggers Article 50

Formal notice is given to the EU, under article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, that the UK intends to leave the bloc.

18 April 2017

Snap election

Despite having previously ruled it out, May calls a snap general election, accusing opposition parties of trying to jeopardise Brexit preparations. Projections suggest she could secure a majority of 140.

8 June 2017

Loses majority

After a disastrous campaign performance, May loses her majority in the Commons. Within days of the election, she is forced to do a deal with the DUP to get a working majority.

4 October 2017

Coughing fit

May’s speech at the Conservative conference lurches from disaster to disaster, as a cough mars her delivery, a protestor manages to hand her a P45, and letters start falling off the backdrop behind her.

8 July 2018

Davis resigns

After the Chequers summit, David Davis resigns as Brexit secretary over the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement with the EU.

9 July 2018

Johnson resigns

Boris Johnson follows Davis out the door, claiming the UK was headed ‘for the status of a colony‘.

14 November 2018

Withdrawal agreement published

The text of the withdrawal agreement is published. It is approved by the EU two weeks later.

15 November 2018

Raab resigns

May loses a second Brexit secretary as Dominic Raab resigns, saying he cannot support the deal he helped the PM negotiate. The work and pensions secretary Esther McVey resigns the same day.

4 December 2018

Contempt

May’s government is found to be in contempt of parliament after refusing to publish the full legal advice it received over Brexit.

12 December 2018

Confidence vote victory

Although more than a third of her MPs vote against her, May survives a Tory vote of no confidence. Under party rules she cannot be challenged again for another 12 months.

15 January 2019

Record defeat on Brexit deal

May suffers the heaviest parliamentary defeat of a British prime minister in the democratic era, losing a meaningful vote on her Brexit withdrawal deal by a majority of 230. 

12 March 2019

Second defeat on Brexit deal

May’s deal is again voted down by parliament, this time by a majority of 149.

27 March 2019

Promises to resign

On the day that parliament votes against eight different alternative Brexit options, Theresa May tells her backbench MPs she will stand down as soon as her deal passed.

22 May 2019

Leadsom resigns

On the eve of European parliamentary elections May desperately wanted to avoid, the leader of the house, Andrea Leadsom, quits the cabinet. She is unhappy with 10 new commitments May has added to her withdrawal agreement bill in an attempt to get cross-party consensus.

24 May 2019

Resignation announced

Theresa May announces she will formally resign as Conservative party leader on 7 June.

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In her speech, which aides said she had largely written herself, the prime minister listed a number of what she said were her government’s achievements, including the race disparity audit and the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster.

But the Fire Brigades Union reacted angrily to her mention of the fatal fire, with the general secretary, Matt Wrack, saying: “Many of the underlying issues at Grenfell were due to unsafe conditions that had been allowed to fester under Tory governments and a council for which Theresa May bears ultimate responsibility.”

Former prime minister David Cameron offered his sympathy to May, saying, “I know how painful it is to accept that your time is up and a new leader is required.

“It is extremely difficult and painful to step outside of Downing Street and say those things. This will be a very difficult day.”

Despite the bullishness of the Brexiters about the difference a new leader could make, EU27 leaders responded to May’s departure by underlining their determination to stick to the withdrawal agreement they signed off late last year.

Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, offered his thanks to May, but added: “The agreement reached between the EU and the United Kingdom for an ordered Brexit remains on the table.”

A spokeswoman for Jean-Claude Juncker said the European commission president had followed May’s tearful statement “without personal joy”, and described her as a “very courageous woman”.

She added that Juncker would treat any new prime minister with the respect shown to May, but that the commission’s position – that negotiations were closed – would not change.

David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, who is backing his successor, Dominic Raab, said: “The chance is now available for a new leader to reset, and if they take no deal seriously, if they go back and promote the compromises that parliament has agreed, there’s a decent chance of leaving by the October deadline, moving on to a more sensible basis of negotiations thereafter for the future deal, and getting Britain back worrying about the things that matter: housing, education, health services and the like.”

Davis said he was sad for May. “I thought she was overwhelmed by a really impossible situation, but in other respects she was a very good prime minister.”


As Theresa May resigns, how will she be remembered? – video

Moderate Conservative MPs hope they can halt the momentum behind the Johnson campaign. The former health minister Steve Brine, who is backing Hunt, said the new leader must pursue “centrist policies in the centre ground of British politics which, so far as I know, is the only place from which elections are won in our country”.

Allies said May decided on Wednesday night that she had to resign, as support for her “new” 10-point Brexit deal drained away.

They played down the impact of hostile interventions by individual members of the cabinet, saying: “We had made our move – it was probably the only move we had left.”

Andrea Leadsom resigned from the cabinet on Wednesday evening rather than present May’s new deal to parliament as the leader of the House of Commons; and Hunt and Sajid Javid demanded one-to-one meetings to tell her they could not support the package.

Graphic: resignations under prime ministers

In a speech at the business consultancy firm PWC in London on Tuesday, May set out a series of compromises she was prepared to make to win the support of MPs on both sides of the Commons, including a vote on holding a second referendum.

The string of pledges failed to persuade Labour or the Democratic Unionists, and alienated Tory backbenchers who were furious about the impact of the referendum pledge on voters just before tough European elections.

Timeline

Six key Brexit moments for Theresa May

11 July 2016

Theresa May is elected Conservative leader and, having backed remain, seeks to burnish her credentials as someone who can unite her party by appointing key leave figures to the cabinet, including Boris Johnson as foreign secretary, Liam Fox as trade secretary and David Davis as Brexit secretary. 

2 October 2016

In her first conference speech, May sets a course for a hard Brexit by vowing ‘we are going to be a fully independent, sovereign country’ and implies the UK will leave the customs union and the single market. Three months later, she delivers the Lancaster House speech that inked her red lines in permanent marker and left her with little room for manoeuvre.

8 June 2017

Having decided to call a snap general election in order to garner a majority that would allow her to push her Brexit vision through the Commons, a calamitous campaign results in the Conservatives losing their majority. That left May not only turning to the DUP in order to prop up her government but set the scene for the  parliamentary deadlock that was to come. 

6 July 2018

May gathers her warring cabinet at Chequers in a bid to set out a compromise negotiating position that has a chance of finding favour with the EU. But a perceived move towards a softer Brexit provokes an immediate backlash from the right of the party, prompting the resignations of Davis and Johnson from the cabinet and new plotting from ERG members.

13 March 2019

With her deal having been voted down by a crushing 230 majority when she first brought it before the Commons in January, May tries again with 19 days left until the original Brexit date. She is again humiliated when the deal is beaten by a majority of 149 votes, as the process becomes mired in parliamentary paralysis.

21 May 2019

After weeks of fruitless talks with Labour over a Brexit compromise, May launches her ‘new’ Brexit plan, with 10 commitments designed to address cross-party concerns about her withdrawal agreement bill. Cabinet agrees to the plan, but Andrea Leadsom resigns as the leader of the House of Commons. By the end of the week, May has been forced to announce her departure. 

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May returned to her Maidenhead constituency shortly after announcing her resignation and will spend the weekend at Chequers, the prime minister’s country retreat.

Jeremy Corbyn said May had done the right thing by resigning and called for a general election, something many at Westminster believe is increasingly likely if the aspirations of a new Tory leader clash with the party’s lack of a majority in parliament.

The Labour leader said: “The last thing the country needs is weeks of more Conservative infighting followed by yet another unelected prime minister.

“Whoever becomes the new Conservative leader must let the people decide our country’s future through an immediate general election.”

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