Defiance as May defends record before her voice begins to crack
Tributes to PM came in from colleagues, including many who plotted her downfall
Before Theresa May walked up to the podium outside 10 Downing Street to announce her resignation, she had a meeting inside with 1922 Committee chairman Graham Brady to agree terms. She agreed to resign as Conservative leader on June 7th, at the end of a week dominated by Donald Trump’s state visit and events to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
She will stay on as prime minister while the Conservatives choose a successor but she took the opportunity of her statement on Friday to defend her record, particularly in pushing for a Brexit deal.
“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,” she said.
“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 honours 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,” she said.
Finished in tears
Mrs May defended her domestic policy record, pointing to increased funding for mental health and new measures to tackle domestic violence. But as she approached the end of her statement, Mrs May’s voice began to crack and she finished in tears.
“I will shortly leave the job that it has been the honour 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,” she said.
As tributes to the prime minister came in from her colleagues, including many who plotted her downfall, the Conservative Party chairman and senior officers in the 1922 Committee announced plans for the contest to succeed her. Nominations will close on June 10th and MPs will then vote in successive rounds to choose two candidates to go before all members of the party.
The plan is to hold hustings around the country before the membership votes in a postal ballot, with a result expected by the start of the summer parliamentary recess in late July. In a surprise move, the party officers said that non-Conservatives could attend the hustings and ask questions of the candidates.
“We are deeply conscious that the Conservatives are not just selecting the person best placed to become the new leader of our party, but also the next prime minister of the United Kingdom. That is a solemn responsibility, particularly at such an important time for our nation. We will therefore propose that the leadership election and hustings involve opportunities for non-members and people who may not yet vote Conservative to meet the candidates and put their questions to them too,” they said.
Within hours of Mrs May’s statement, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said that he would be a candidate to succeed her. Mr Johnson, who said earlier this month that he would be a candidate, told a conference in Switzerland on Friday that he would not seek a further article 50 extension.
“We will leave the EU on October 31st, deal or no deal,” he said.
He suggested that he would seek to negotiate changes to the Brexit deal but would leave without an agreement if necessary.
“A new leader will have the opportunity to do things differently and have the momentum of a new administration,” he said.