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May to stand down as UK prime minister on June 7

Her exit triggers a contest that will bring a new leader to power who is likely to push for a more decisive Brexit divorce deal

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The Conservatives in the running for the top job include (top, left to right) former leader of the House of Commons Angela Leadsom; former foreign secretary Boris Johnson; Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt; (bottom, left to right) Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Michael Gove; Home Secretary Sajid Javid and former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab.

London

BRITISH Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday said that she would quit, triggering a contest that will bring a new leader to power who is likely to push for a more decisive Brexit divorce deal.

Mrs May was barely able to finish her resignation speech, her voice breaking as she fought back tears when describing her "enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love".

In a seven-minute speech, she said that she would stand down on June 7, acknowledging that the support of her Conservative lawmakers had disappeared after her failure to deliver on Britain's 2016 vote to leave the European Union.

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Trying to shape a legacy which will more likely be defined by her failed negotiation with the EU, she listed some of the things she said she had achieved during her time in power, including tackling race relations and the gender pay gap.

But it was at the end of her speech, when the usually composed prime minister, dubbed the "Maybot" by some for her robotic performances, almost broke down.

"I will shortly leave the job that has been the honour of my life to hold," she told reporters outside her Downing Street official residence.

"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."

Once a reluctant supporter of EU membership who won the top job in the turmoil that followed the 2016 Brexit vote, she steps down with her central pledges - to lead the United Kingdom out of the bloc and heal its divisions - unfulfilled.

She endured crises and humiliation in her effort to find a compromise Brexit deal that parliament could ratify, and bequeaths a deeply divided country and a political elite that is deadlocked over how, when or whether to leave the EU.

Britain's governing Conservatives said that Mrs May's successor as party leader and prime minister was expected to be in place by parliament's summer recess - set for July 20. Nominations among MPs would close in the week beginning June 10, before party members choose between the top two candidates.

Britain's opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Friday that Mrs May was right to resign as prime minister, and whoever replaced her as leader of the Conservative Party must call an election."Whoever becomes the new Conservative leader must let the people decide our country's future, through an immediate general election," he said in a statement.

The European Union said Mrs May's resignation does nothing to change its position on the Brexit withdrawal deal. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker noted Mrs May's decision "without personal joy", a spokeswoman said, adding that Mr Juncker "very much liked and appreciated working with Prime Minister May and . . . Theresa May is a woman of courage for whom he has great respect."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel took note of the decision by Mrs May to resign "with respect", saying that they shared a "good and trusting" working relationship.

Pledging to keep working with Mrs May in the same spirit as long as she is in office, Mrs Merkel noted that Berlin "wishes to maintain close cooperation and a close relationship with the British government".

French President Emmanuel Macron wants to see a "rapid clarification" over Britain's departure from the European Union. He hailed Mrs May for "courageous work" in seeking to implement Brexit in the interests of her country and with respect for Britain's European partners, the Elysee said in a statement.But it added: "The principles of the EU will continue to apply, with the priority on the smooth functioning of the EU, and this requires a rapid clarification."

Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that he had spoken to Mrs May to convey his thanks and respect. "The deal reached between the European Union and Britain for an orderly Brexit remains on the table," Mr Rutte said on Twitter. REUTERS, AFP


Top contenders for next PM

Boris Johnson: A former mayor of London, "BoJo", has confirmed that he would "of course" contest any upcoming leadership contest, surprising very few in Westminster.

A key figure in the 2016 Brexit campaign, he failed in a bid for the top job in its aftermath as ally Michael Gove withdrew his support at the last minute.

Mrs May appointed Mr Johnson as foreign minister but he quickly drew attention for the wrong reasons, including a series of diplomatic gaffes. He became increasingly uncomfortable with the government's Brexit strategy before resigning in July.

An endorsement from influential pro-Brexit backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg has boosted his chances, but the 54-year-old has also earned plenty of enemies within the party for his behaviour.

He separated from his second wife in September and has a new girlfriend. He has recently lost weight and trimmed back his trademark mop of blond hair.

Jeremy Hunt: The foreign minister supported remaining in the European Union in the 2016 referendum but has been highly critical of what he calls the "arrogant" approach since taken by Brussels.

A former businessman who speaks fluent Japanese, he is a resilient politician, having headed the National Health Service for six years during a funding crisis.

Mr Hunt replaced Mr Johnson as Britain's chief diplomat last year. Softly spoken and measured, he is calm under fire and has gradually seen his power and influence in the Cabinet rise. The 52-year-old has signalled his intent to run for the leadership and, like several other contenders, recently invited a Sunday newspaper into his home for a profile.

Dominic Raab: An ardent eurosceptic with a black belt in karate, the 45-year-old has quickly climbed the ministerial ladder after joining the government only in 2015 under former prime minister David Cameron.

He backed Brexit and was named justice minister in the new Cabinet after the 2016 referendum. Mr Raab later served as Brexit secretary from July to November 2018 when he stepped down in protest at the Brexit deal struck with the EU.

Just before his departure, he was widely mocked for saying that he "hadn't quite understood" how reliant UK trade in goods is on the Dover-Calais crossing between Britain and France.

Michael Gove: A Brexit campaigner, Mr Gove initially supported Mr Johnson's leadership bid in 2016 but at the last minute announced his own intention to run, causing both men to lose out to Mrs May.

"Whatever charisma is, I don't have it," he admitted in the race in which he came third. After a year in the political wilderness, he was appointed environment minister in June 2017 and has stayed in the headlines with a series of eco-friendly policy announcements.

Equally active in his previous justice and education briefs, he is a minister who likes to see through radical new policies.

Following a series of resignations, the cerebral 51-year-old is among the most ardent eurosceptics left in Mrs May's faltering government.

Sajid Javid: A former investment banker and the son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver, the 49-year-old is the face of a modern, multicultural and meritocratic Britain. On the economically liberal wing of the Conservative Party, Mr Javid voted for Britain to stay in the EU in 2016.

Since being appointed interior minister in April 2018, he has earned respect for his handling of a scandal over the treatment of the children of Caribbean immigrants. However, he was recently criticised in liberal circles for stripping a teenage mother who ran away to join the Islamic State group of her British nationality.

Andrea Leadsom: The former leader of the House of Commons lost out to Mrs May in the 2016 contest to replace Mr Cameron. She stole a march on her rivals by quitting her Cabinet position on Wednesday, hastening the prime minister's demise and staking out her pro-Brexit credentials.

She got down to the final two in the 2016 race, but pulled out before the decision was handed over to party members, with whom she was popular, after coming under fire for saying that being a mother would give her an advantage as prime minister over the childless Mrs May. AFP