After surviving a no confidence vote last December, and suffering two of the largest legislative defeats in modern parliamentary history, UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced this morning that she will step down as prime minister. Barely suppressing tears, “the second female prime minister but certainly not the last” said she was leaving office “with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love.”
Here are the facts you need to know:
1. Theresa May steps down as Conservative Party leader on June 7. At 10 a.m. London time, May stepped out of 10 Downing Street wearing a bright red dress to announce the end had come. An hour earlier, she had completed a meeting with 1922 Committee Chair Sir Graham Brady, who informed her that she had lost the confidence of her party, and her cabinet, and if she did not resign they would change party rules to allow a second vote of no confidence. As her husband Philip stood in the alley, the prime minister said, “I am today announcing that I will resign as leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party on Friday the 7th of June so that a successor can be chosen.” The Conservative Party leadership contest will begin the following week, and she will be replaced as leader of the UK once the process is complete.
2. Theresa May will serve as prime minister until mid-to-late July. May must resign as Tory leader for a leadership contest to take place. She announced that announced that she “will continue to serve as her prime minister until the [leadership election] process has concluded.” Until then, she will retain all the powers and perform all the dueties of her office, such as presiding over President Donald Trump’s state visit for D-Day observances next month.
3. Theresa May suffered two record-setting defeats in Parliament, over the same bill. On January 15, Theresa May’s Brexit deal failed in Parliament by a margin of 230 votes, the largest defeat in 95 years and the largest for a sitting government in modern history. On March 12, the same deal failed by 149 votes, the fourth largest parliamentary loss in a century; the intervening losses came from Ramsey MacDonald’s minority Labour government in 1924. May’s drive to have Parliament vote on substantially the same “New Brexit Deal” – with the option of remaining in a customs union and a second referendum – caused cabinet ministers to demand she finalize her departure plans (or have them finalized). May cited opposition to the deal in her speech, confessing, “I have done everything I can to convince MPs to back that deal. Sadly, I have not been able to do so.”
4. Theresa May had more government resignations during her short tenure than more successful prime ministers had in a decade. This Tuesday, House of Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom became the 36th MP to resign during May’s leadership. The list includes two of the her three Brexit secretaries: David Davis and Dominic Raab. That is more than either Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher experienced in more than 10 years. The most comparable minister by tenure, Gordon Brown, had just half as many MPs call it quits. Cabinet members indictated May did not listen, sometimes misled them about key issues, and ultimately broke her own “red lines” on Brexit.
5. May extolled One-Nation Conservatism – and lauded her interventionist economic policies – in her resignation speech. While May took justifiable pride in breaking employment records, she said she was most proud of such policies as “eliminating plastic waste, tackling climate change” and instituting a “Race Disparity Audit and gender pay reporting.” May recently announced a national ban on plastic straws and remained part of the Paris Agreement on climate after the U.S. withdrew.
6. The 2017 snap elections were a turning point. Theresa May called a snap election on April 18, 2017, to increase her slim parliamentary majority and ease the passage of her Brexit deal. Instead, the Conservative Party lost its majority and had to strike a supply and confidence agreement with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to stay in power. Her party blamed her personal unpopularity and robotic campaigning style for the loss, and her popularity never recovered.
7. Theresa May will have one of the shortest tenures as prime minister in modern UK history. If Theresa May serves as prime minister until mid-to-late July, she will retire as the fourth shortest-serving prime minister of the postwar era, after Sir Alec Douglas-Home (364 days), Anthony Eden (1,010 days), and Gordon Brown (1,050 days). She will likely have the seventh-shortest tenure of the twentieth century, just ahead of Neville Chamberlain.
8. Theresa May’s resignation touches off an election for the next prime minister. A Conservative Party leadership contest works like this: Each candidate must have the support of at least two of the Conservative Party’s 313 MPs to stand for leadership. Once the party closes nominations, Tory MPs will holds rounds of votes, eliminating the candidate with the lowest vote total at each stage. When only two candidates remain, the 124,000 members of the Conservative Party then vote via postal ballots. The candidate who wins a majority becomes party leader. The party believes the process should be completed in July.
9. At least five candidates have already announced they are standing to succeed Theresa May—but the list may expand to more than a dozen. As of this writing declared candidates including frontrunner Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom, Esther McVey, Dominic Raab, and Rory Stewart. But Michael Gove, Sajid Javid, and Jeremy Hunt are considered likely to pose strong challenges. Some commentators believe the list will grow to 19 candidates in the coming weeks.
10. Theresa May could remain in Parliament after she steps down. May has not yet announced whether she will abandon her safe Tory seat before the next election; she is under no legal obligation to do so.
Theresa May, the daughter of a Church of England vicar, is a regular church-goer. May her faith bring her solace, as a new prime minister seizes the promise of Brexit and begins a new era of growth and prosperity.
You can watch Theresa May’s resignation speech below. The full text of her remarks follows.
Ever since I first stepped through the door behind me as Prime Minister, I have striven to make the United Kingdom a country that works not just for a privileged few, but for everyone. And to honor the result of the EU referendum.
Back in 2016, we gave the British people a choice. Against all predictions, the British people voted to leave the European Union. 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. I have done my best to do that.
I negotiated the terms of our exit and a new relationship with our closest neighbors that protects jobs, our security and our Union. I have done everything I can to convince MPs to back that deal. Sadly, I have not been able to do so.
I tried three times. I believe it was right to persevere, even when the odds against success seemed high. 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.
So I am today announcing that I will resign as leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party on Friday the 7th of June so that a successor can be chosen.
I have agreed with the Party Chairman and with the Chairman of the 1922 Committee that the process for electing a new leader should begin in the following week. I have kept Her Majesty the Queen fully informed of my intentions, and I will continue to serve as her Prime Minister until the process has concluded.
It is, and will always remain, a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit. It will be for my successor to seek a way forward that honors the result of the referendum. To succeed, he or she will have to find consensus in Parliament where I have not. Such a consensus can only be reached if those on all sides of the debate are willing to compromise.
For many years the great humanitarian Sir Nicholas Winton – who saved the lives of hundreds of children by arranging their evacuation from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia through the Kindertransport – was my constituent in Maidenhead.
At another time of political controversy, a few years before his death, he took me to one side at a local event and gave me a piece of advice. He said, ‘Never forget that compromise is not a dirty word. Life depends on compromise.’ He was right.
As we strive to find the compromises we need in our politics – whether to deliver Brexit, or to restore devolved government in Northern Ireland – we must remember what brought us here. Because the referendum was not just a call to leave the EU but for profound change in our country.
A call to make the United Kingdom a country that truly works for everyone. I am proud of the progress we have made over the last three years.
We have completed the work that David Cameron and George Osborne started: the deficit is almost eliminated, our national debt is falling and we are bringing an end to austerity.
My focus has been on ensuring that the good jobs of the future will be created in communities across the whole country, not just in London and the South East, through our Modern Industrial Strategy.
We have helped more people than ever enjoy the security of a job. We are building more homes and helping first-time buyers onto the housing ladder – so young people can enjoy the opportunities their parents did. And we are protecting the environment, eliminating plastic waste, tackling climate change and improving air quality.
This is what a decent, moderate and patriotic Conservative Government, on the common ground of British politics, can achieve – even as we tackle the biggest peacetime challenge any government has faced.
I know that the Conservative party can renew itself in the years ahead. That we can deliver Brexit and serve the British people with policies inspired by our values. Security; freedom; opportunity. Those values have guided me throughout my career. But the unique privilege of this office is to use this platform to give a voice to the voiceless, to fight the burning injustices that still scar our society.
That is why I put proper funding for mental health at the heart of our NHS long-term plan. It is why I am ending the postcode lottery for survivors of domestic abuse. It is why the Race Disparity Audit and gender pay reporting are shining a light on inequality, so it has nowhere to hide.
And that is why I set up the independent public inquiry into the tragedy at Grenfell Tower – to search for the truth, so nothing like it can ever happen again, and so the people who lost their lives that night are never forgotten.
Because this country is a Union. Not just a family of four nations. But a union of people – all of us. Whatever our background, the color of our skin, or who we love. We stand together. And together we have a great future.
Our politics may be under strain, but there is so much that is good about this country. So much to be proud of. So much to be optimistic about.
I will shortly leave the job that it has been the honor of my life to hold – the second female Prime Minister but certainly not the last. I do so with no ill-will, but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love.
(Photo credit: UK government. This photo has been cropped. Open Government Licence v3.0.)