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Theresa May resigns UK premiership amid Brexit deadlock

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British Prime Minister Theresa May says Parliament will get the chance to vote on whether to hold a new referendum on Britain’s EU membership, as she tries to get lawmakers to back her divorce deal with the European Union.
Time

LONDON – Britain’s embattled leader Theresa May resigned her premiership Friday, although she will stay on as caretaker prime minister for now, amid a barrage of criticism and mounting pressure over her failed efforts to steer the nation out of the European Union in a manner acceptable to increasingly rebellious lawmakers.

May, 62, lasted three years in office.

May’s Conservative Party will start, from June 7, a process to replace her that could take several weeks or more. Britain elects a party, not a specific political candidate, meaning that there will be no immediate change to the party that is in power. 

It’s been “the honor of my life” to be the “second female prime minister, but certainly not the last,” May said in a statement, delivered from 10 Downing Street, her official office and residence in central London. Her voice cracked with emotion as she spoke. 

May took over from David Cameron, also of the Conservative Party. Cameron resigned after he gambled that when he called Britain’s 2016 national referendum on whether leave the EU, the country would choose to stay in the 28-nation bloc. It didn’t.   

May previously announced she would relinquish her position once lawmakers approved her controversial EU withdrawal agreement. The deal has been rejected three times already and British parliamentarians were due to vote on it a fourth time in early June.  

But despite a last-ditch bid to secure support for her Brexit plan – including a promise to give Parliament a vote on whether to hold a new vote on EU membership, something May repeatedly ruled out – it became clear that that, too, was not sufficient to convince lawmakers across the political spectrum her deal served Britain’s interests.  

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Pro-Brexit Conservatives accused May of capitulating to pro-EU demands over the border status of Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with EU-member Ireland. EU membership has enabled frictionless trade and peace and stability across this border for decades. Opposition Labour Party lawmakers dismissed May’s offer as too little too late, and lacking in the type of protections for workers’ rights, climate change, public health and other notable issues that the EU facilitated. 

“The rhetoric may have changed but the deal has not,” said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. “She did not seek a compromise until after she had missed her own deadline to leave, and by the time she finally did she had lost the authority to deliver.”

Britain is due to leave the EU on October 31, with or without a formal exit deal, and May’s departure injects new uncertainty into fate of what it means for Brexit. 

Among the main contenders to replace May include U.S.-born former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who officially confirmed last week that he would seek the job if a vacancy arose. Bookmakers and polls show that Johnson, 54, is the frontrunner. 

He is an eccentric character known for his tussled blonde hair and frequent classical allusions. Johnson has also long struggled to hide his prime ministerial ambitions, telling USA TODAY in a 2014 interview that his chance of becoming British prime minister was about as good as finding Elvis on Mars or being reincarnated as an olive.  

Johnson, an ardent backer of Brexit, has previously spoken of his admiration for President Donald Trump, although when he was London’s mayor the flamboyant and gaffe-prone politician also said that Trump was “clearly out of his mind.”

Other possible replacements for May, who will be largely unknown to Americans, include: former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab; environment secretary Michael Gove; foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt; and Sajid Javid, Britain’s interior minister.

Still, foreign affairs experts say there is unlikely to be any significant impact on Britain’s close relationship with the United States, forged through hundreds of years of economic and cultural ties, two world wars, the Cold War, several conflicts in the Middle East and close cooperation fighting international terrorism, as a result of May’s departure. 

“Unless there is a general election and Corbyn comes to power,” said Richard Caplan, a professor of politics and international relations at Oxford University, referring to Corbyn’s committed left-wing political stance. Corbyn is a highly outspoken Trump critic. 

May’s scheduled ouster comes ahead of Trump’s planned state visit to Britain next week and after her party likely received a drubbing in European Parliament elections. 

There was no immediate response from the White House about May’s resignation. The decision to wait until June 7 to begin the hunt for a new prime minister seems partly designed to let Trump’s trip take place without the backdrop of utter political chaos. 

But even when May goes the new prime minister will still face the same seemingly intractable struggle to get Britain’s Parliament to approve a Brexit deal that is acceptable to a majority of lawmakers, former Conservative Party cabinet member Ken Clarke told BBC radio on Friday. “The right wing of my party … seem to imagine that the party will now unite behind the one of them that most resembles Nigel Farage,” he said, referring to the Brexit champion, a divisive figure who is close to Trump. Farage is running for re-election in the European Parliament elections with his new Brexit Party.  

“I don’t think it’s going to be like that,” said Clarke. 

May’s legacy will be dominated by the same thing that ushered her into power: dragging Britain out of the EU when most British parliamentarians are opposed to it, economists say it’s largely a bad idea, and the country is closely split over the issue. May pledged to fight the “burning injustices” that plague modern Britain by introducing wide-ranging reforms to its social welfare programs. She was kept busy by Brexit instead.

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2019/05/24/theresa-may-resigns-uk-premiership-amid-brexit-deadlock/3768204002/


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