British PM Theresa May resigns over Brexit failure

Theresa May won the top job in the turmoil that followed the 2016 Brexit vote. (AFP)
Updated 28 May 2019

British PM Theresa May resigns over Brexit failure

  • She will resign as Conservative Party leader on June 7 with a leadership contest in the following week
  • She endured crises and humiliation in her effort to find a compromise Brexit deal that parliament could ratify

LONDON: Theresa May announced Friday that she will step down as U.K. Conservative Party leader on June 7, admitting defeat in her attempt to take Britain out of the European Union and sparking a contest to become the country's next prime minister.

She will stay as caretaker prime minister until the new leader is chosen, a process likely to take several weeks. The new Conservative leader will become prime minister without the need for a general election, and will take up the task of trying to secure Britain's exit from the EU.

Her voice breaking, May said in a televised statement outside 10 Downing St. that she would soon be leaving a job that it has been "the honor of my life to hold."

May became prime minister the month after Britons voted in June 2016 to leave the European Union, and her premiership has been consumed by the attempt to deliver on that verdict.

Now she has bowed to relentless pressure from her party to quit over her failure to take Britain out of the EU on the scheduled date of March 29. Britain is currently due to leave the EU on Oct. 31, but Parliament has yet to approve divorce terms.

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RELATED: TIMELINE: Theresa May's three tumultuous Downing Street years

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"I feel as certain today as I did three years ago that in a democracy, if you give people a choice you have a duty to implement what they decide," May said.

"I have done my best to do that. ... But 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."

US President Donald Trump told reporters on the White House lawn, “I feel badly for Theresa. I like her very much. She is a good woman,”

“She’s a good woman. She worked very hard. She’s very strong.” 

Multiple contenders are already jockeying to replace her and take up the challenge of securing Britain's EU exit. The early front-runner is Boris Johnson, a former foreign secretary and strong champion of Brexit.

Conservative lawmakers increasingly see May as an obstacle to Britain's EU exit, although her replacement will face the same issue: a Parliament deeply divided over whether to leave the EU, and how close a relationship to seek with the bloc after it does.

May spent more than a year and a half negotiating an exit agreement with the EU, only to see it rejected three times by Britain's Parliament.

Pressure on May reached breaking point this week as House of Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom quit and several Cabinet colleagues expressed doubts about the bill she planned to put before Parliament in a fourth attempt to secure Parliament's backing for her Brexit blueprint.

Leadsom, another likely contender to replace May, joined colleagues in paying tribute to the departing leader. She tweeted that May's "dignified speech" had been "an illustration of her total commitment to country and duty. She did her utmost, and I wish her all the very best."

Johnson, whose relentless criticism helped push May out of the door, tweeted: "Thank you for your stoical service to our country and the Conservative Party. It is now time to follow her urgings: to come together and deliver Brexit."

But Johnson, or any other successor, will face a tough challenge to unite a country and a Parliament still deeply divided over the country's relationship with Europe.

The next British leader is likely to be a staunch Brexiteer, who will try to renegotiate the divorce deal, and if that fails to leave the bloc without an agreement on departure terms.

Most businesses and economists think that would cause economic turmoil and plunge Britain into recession. Parliament has voted to rule out a no-deal Brexit, though it remains the legal default option.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker praised May as "a woman of courage" for whom he has great respect.

EU spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said Juncker will "equally respect and establish working relations" with any new British leader.

But the bloc insists it will not renegotiate the Brexit deal.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte tweeted that the "agreement reached between the EU and the United Kingdom for an ordered Brexit remains on the table."

Angela Merkel's spokeswoman, Martina Fietz, said the German chancellor noted May's decision "with respect" and would continue to work closely with her successor for "an orderly exit."

In an emotional departure speech, with close aides and her husband Philip looking on, May said she was Britain's "second female prime minister but certainly not the last."

She said she was leaving "with no ill-will, but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love."

 


UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

Updated 18 August 2019

UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

  • Johnson will travel for talks with German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron
  • Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit

LONDON: UK's Boris Johnson will visit European capitals this week on his first overseas trip as prime minister, as his government said Sunday it had ordered the scrapping of the decades-old law enforcing its EU membership.

Johnson will travel to Berlin on Wednesday for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and on to Paris Thursday for discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron, Downing Street confirmed on Sunday, amid growing fears of a no-deal Brexit in two and a half months.

The meetings, ahead of a two-day G7 summit starting Saturday in the southern French resort of Biarritz, are his first diplomatic forays abroad since replacing predecessor Theresa May last month.

Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit or warn that it faces the prospect of Britain's disorderly departure on October 31 -- the date it is due to leave.

European leaders have repeatedly rejected reopening an accord agreed by May last year but then rejected by British lawmakers on three occasions, despite Johnson's threats that the country will leave then without an agreement.

In an apparent show of intent, London announced Sunday that it had ordered the repeal of the European Communities Act, which took Britain into the forerunner to the EU 46 years ago and gives Brussels law supremacy.

The order, signed by Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay on Friday, is set to take effect on October 31.

"This is a landmark moment in taking back control of our laws from Brussels," Barclay said in a statement.

"This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back -- we are leaving the EU as promised on October 31, whatever the circumstances -- delivering on the instructions given to us in 2016."

The moves come as Johnson faces increasing pressure to immediately recall MPs from their summer holidays so that parliament can debate Brexit.

More than 100 lawmakers, who are not due to return until September 3, have demanded in a letter that he reconvene the 650-seat House of Commons and let them sit permanently until October 31.

"Our country is on the brink of an economic crisis, as we career towards a no-deal Brexit," said the letter, signed by MPs and opposition party leaders who want to halt a no-deal departure.

"We face a national emergency, and parliament must be recalled now."

Parliament is set to break up again shortly after it returns, with the main parties holding their annual conferences during the September break.

Main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to call a vote of no confidence in Johnson's government after parliament returns.

He hopes to take over as a temporary prime minister, seek an extension to Britain's EU departure date to stop a no-deal Brexit, and then call a general election.

"What we need is a government that is prepared to negotiate with the European Union so we don't have a crash-out on the 31st," Corbyn said Saturday.

"This government clearly doesn't want to do that."

Britain could face food, fuel and medicine shortages and chaos at its ports in a no-deal Brexit, The Sunday Times newspaper reported, citing a leaked government planning document.

There would likely be some form of hard border imposed on the island of Ireland, the document implied.

Rather than worst-case scenarios, the leaked document, compiled this month by the Cabinet Office ministry, spells out the likely ramifications of a no-deal Brexit, the broadsheet claimed.

The document said logjams could affect fuel distribution, while up to 85 percent of trucks using the main ports to continental Europe might not be ready for French customs.

The availability of fresh food would be diminished and prices would go up, the newspaper said.