Top minister unveils leadership bid after May's tearful exit

24 May 2019, 09:58 | Updated: 24 May 2019, 23:45

Theresa May fought back tears as she announced she will resign as Conservative Party leader on 7 June, following months of pressure.

The prime minister said she had "done my best" to get her withdrawal agreement through parliament and to give people what they had voted for in the Brexit referendum of 2016.

"I believe it was right to persevere even when the odds against success seemed high," she said.

But she acknowledged her failure, saying: "It is and will always remain a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit."

Watched by husband Philip and her closest aides, she said: "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 7 June."

The leadership race will then officially begin the week after, with Mrs May staying on as prime minister until a new head of the party is chosen by the end of July.

Fighting back tears, she said she was leaving the job "with no ill will", adding that she was "the second female prime minister but certainly not the last".

Concluding her statement, Mrs May broke down as she said it had been "the honour of my life" to serve "the country that I love".

Her Labour opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, who will sit across from his third Tory leader in a matter of weeks, called for an immediate general election.

He said he understood the stress she was under, but did not recognise her description of the nation.

Mrs May's announcement came after a showdown this morning with Sir Graham Brady, who resigned as chair of the 1922 committee of Tory MPs after the Prime Minister's speech.

It fuelled speculation he would run for Tory leader, something he said he was considering.

It also marked the end of a difficult week, with more MPs demanding her immediate resignation and Andrea Leadsom quitting.

Mrs Leadsom said she could not support the revamped Withdrawal Agreement Bill because it did not respect the referendum result, but said the prime minister's speech was "an illustration of her total commitment to country and duty".

It didn't take long for rumoured candidates to come out of the woodwork.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt indicated he would stand, while bookmakers' favourite Boris Johnson sought to secure the Brexiteer vote by stressing he would be prepared to back a no-deal departure to ensure the UK leaves the EU on
October 31.

Dominic Raab, described her as "dignified as ever...she remains a dedicated public servant", while his supporter, Helen Grant, quit her role in Conservative Party headquarters barely an hour before Mrs May made her statement, to back him.

Mr Johnson tweeted: "A very dignified statement from @theresa_may. Thank you for your stoical service to our country and the Conservative Party. It is now time to follow her urgings: to come together and deliver Brexit."

His response was met with criticism by many, including Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who tweeted: "Hypocrite."

In a speech in Switzerland, he said "of course" he would be running, adding "you'll hear more about Prime Minister bid than you want to hear in the next few days".

Mrs May's chief of staff Gavin Barwell said: "I have seen at first hand her commitment to public service and her incredible resilience as she has confronted the biggest challenge any British government has faced since the Second World War. It has been an honour to serve her."

In Europe, leaders were keen to remind the UK that the deal on the table for Brexit is unlikely to change. Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister said he did not think the EU would offer a "new or better deal" to a new leader.

French President Emmanuel Macron's official said: "Our relations with the United Kingdom are critical in all areas. It is too early to speculate on the consequences of [Mrs May's] decision."

"We need rapid clarification" on Brexit, the spokesman added.

:: Listen to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker

Speaking to reporters in Washington DC, the US president Donald Trump said: "I feel badly for her, I like her very much

"She worked very hard, she was very strong.

"She decided to do something that some people were surprised at, some were not, for the good of her country."

The prime minister's resignation now starts a contest to become Britain's next prime minister.

The Conservative Party announced the race will begin with the close of nominations happening in the week beginning 10 June.

There will be successive rounds of voting will take place until a final choice of candidates goes to all members, which the party hopes will happen by the end of June.

Hustings will take place around the UK, before votes are cast in time for the result before parliament goes to recess in the summer. These could be open to non-members, according to a statement put out by party chairman Brandon Lewis, and Cheryl Gillan, and Charles Walker, vice-chairmen of the 1922 committee.

The UK is still due to leave the European Union on 31 October, but parliament has yet to approve the terms.