"I will resign as leader of the Conservative and Unionist party on Friday, 7 June so that a successor can be chosen," Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May said outside 10 Downing Street in an emotional resignation.

British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a statement in London, Britain, May 24, 2019.
British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a statement in London, Britain, May 24, 2019. (Toby Melville / Reuters)

Theresa May announced on Friday that she will step down as UK Conservative Party leader on June 7, sparking a contest to become Britain'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 would then become prime minister without the need for a general election.

Her voice breaking, May said in a televised statement that she would be leaving a job that it has been "the honour of my life to hold."

"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," May said.

May has bowed to relentless pressure from her party to quit over her failure to take Britain out of the European Union on schedule.

Her departure will trigger a party leadership contest in which any Conservative lawmaker can run. The early front-runner is Boris Johnson, a former foreign secretary and strong champion of Brexit.

Britain is currently due to leave the EU on October 31, but Parliament has yet to approve divorce terms.

TRT World's Simon McGregor-Wood reports.

A draining Brexit

Pressure on May to quit over her failure to get Parliament's approval for a European Union divorce deal reached critical point this week as House of Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom quit and several Cabinet colleagues expressed doubts about her Brexit bill.

With her authority draining away by the hour, May on Thursday delayed plans to publish the EU withdrawal bill — her fourth attempt to secure Parliament's backing for her Brexit blueprint.

The Brexit bill was already rejected by much of her Conservative Party, as expectations rose that she would cave in to demands that she resign and let a new leader try to complete the UK's stalled withdrawal from the European Union.

A tough tenure

May became prime minister in July 2016, and her premiership has been consumed by the so-far-unsuccessful attempt to leave the EU.

She seemed close to success when she struck a divorce agreement with the EU late last year. But lawmakers have rejected it three times, and Britain's long-scheduled departure date of March 29 passed with the country still in the bloc.

Many Conservatives blame May for the delay and want her replaced with a more ardent Brexiteer such as Johnson or former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab.

May's spokesman James Slack, said she would still be in office when US President Donald Trump comes to Britain for a June 3-5 state visit.

"She looks forward to welcoming the president," he said.

TRT World's Sarah Morice looks back at May's era as Britain's prime minister. 

May's replacement

Johnson and several members of her Cabinet are already jockeying for position in the coming leadership race.

The political turmoil weighed on the pound, which fell to $1.2601 on Thursday, its lowest point against the dollar since early January.

Many British voters on both sides of the Brexit debate look set to use the election to the EU legislature to express displeasure over the political gridlock.

Opinion polls show strong support for the single-issue Brexit Party — largely from angry former Conservative voters — and for pro-EU parties including the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

The election is being held on Thursday in Britain, but results won't be announced until all 28 EU countries have finished voting late Sunday.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies