“I have done everything I can,” Mrs. May said.
Facing a cabinet rebellion, Theresa May announced on Friday morning her decision to leave office. She spoke briefly after meeting with Graham Brady, a powerful leader of backbench Conservative lawmakers.
Standing in front of 10 Downing Street, Mrs. May said it was in the “best interests of the country for a new prime minister” to lead Britain through the Brexit process. She announced plans to step down as the leader of the Conservative Party on June 7, with the process to replace her beginning the following week.
“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,” she added. “I have done everything I can to convince MPs to back that deal. Sadly, I have not been able to do so.”
Mrs. May’s voice cracked as she said she was honored to serve the country as the “second female prime minister, but certainly not the last,” and said the role had been the honor of her life.
A turbulent term is coming to an awkward end.
Conservative lawmakers have been deeply frustrated by Mrs. May’s failure to deliver on Brexit, which became the government’s central — some would say its sole — preoccupation after the country voted to leave the union in a 2016 referendum.
But the breaking point has come at an awkward moment, with President Trump scheduled to arrive in Britain on June 3 for a state visit and to take part in events to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings that preceded the end of World War II.
Mrs. May’s authority was profoundly undermined in 2017, when she unexpectedly called a general election, then conducted a poor campaign and lost the majority in Parliament that she had inherited from her predecessor, David Cameron. The Conservatives remained in power with the support of a small Northern Ireland party.
Deep divisions in her Cabinet over the approach to Brexit weakened her at home. By contrast, the European Union remained remarkably unified in its negotiating strategy, and it remains doubtful that another British leader will get a deal any more palatable than the one Mrs. May agreed to.
Her ability to soak up political punishment and plow on regardless won her admiration, even from some of her many critics. But the pressure on her increased after disastrous local election results this month, when the Conservatives lost more than 1,300 seats in municipalities around the country and voters vented their frustration over the Brexit infighting and deadlock.
Then, the government announced that Britain would, after all, take part in elections to the European Parliament this week — another symbol of Mrs. May’s failure to achieve a withdrawal. Britons voted on Thursday, but the results will be announced on Sunday, after all the European Union countries have gone to the polls. They are expected to be catastrophic for the Conservatives.
How did Theresa May get here?
David Cameron, the prime minister who called the 2016 referendum and campaigned to remain in the bloc, resigned the day after the vote. Mrs. May had also argued for remaining, but after emerging victorious from a brief but chaotic leadership contest, she appointed a cabinet with several leading Brexit campaigners and set out an agenda that implied a comprehensive break with the bloc.
She then gave herself a two-year legal deadline to complete withdrawal negotiations, only to have to postpone Britain’s exit twice after failing to persuade Parliament to accept the terms she had negotiated, painstakingly, with the European Union.
Time and time again, Mrs. May survived challenges to her leadership, escaping a seemingly inevitable end to her tenure as her Brexit plans repeatedly floundered. But the final push toward Mrs. May’s ouster came this week after she rolled out the latest iteration of a Brexit deal that lawmakers had thrice rejected by large margins.
Her hopes of trying once more to push her deal through Parliament were dashed after changes she unveiled on Tuesday, which opened the door to a second referendum on Brexit, were rejected by Brexiteers as a betrayal and by Remainers as simply not enough. Mrs. May had framed the changes as “one last chance” deliver on the 2016 vote to leave the European Union.
Plans to publish her new plan on Friday were quickly shelved when it became clear they managed to alienate pro- and anti-Brexit factions alike. But Mrs. May has really been on her way out since her third failed attempt to get the plan approved — on the very day in March that Britain was initially scheduled to leave the European Union. She had offered to step aside if lawmakers voted for her proposal.
Who could succeed her?
Mrs. May’s departure could set off a ferocious succession contest within her governing Conservative Party, though lawmakers have been positioning themselves for this eventuality for months as her authority steadily weakened and several of her cabinet ministers stepped down.
Several prominent Conservatives are already campaigning actively to succeed her as party leader and prime minister. Candidates for party leadership have to be nominated by two other members of Parliament, though if there is only one candidate, he or she automatically becomes the new leader. If more than two candidates emerge, lawmakers vote among themselves to narrow the field and then put two candidates to a vote by all Conservative Party members, who number approximately 120,000.
Most analysts expect a new leader to be in place by the end of July. Hard-line Brexit supporters will be determined to replace Mrs. May with someone from their ranks, with the former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson; the former Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab; and Andrea Leadsom, who left her cabinet post as leader of the House of Commons on Wednesday, seen as likely contenders.
But less ideological figures are likely to put themselves forward, too, including Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, and Sajid Javid, the home secretary.
Ellen Barry and Benjamin Mueller contributed reporting from London.