May’s departure will deepen the Brexit crisis as a new leader is likely to want a more decisive split with the European Union, raising the chances of a confrontation with the bloc and an election which could usher in a socialist government.
In such a fluid situation, the world’s fifth largest economy faces an array of options including an orderly exit with a deal, a no-deal exit, an election or a second referendum which could ultimately reverse the 2016 decision to leave the EU.
May, who won the top job in the turmoil which followed the 2016 referendum on EU membership, has repeatedly failed to get parliament’s approval for the divorce deal she pitched as a way to heal the Brexit divisions of the country.
But her last gambit, offering a possible second referendum and closer trading arrangements with the EU, triggered a revolt by some Brexit-supporting ministers. She is now under pressure to name her departure date.
House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom resigned, saying she felt May’s approach would not deliver Brexit.
The BBC said more ministers could follow. “May set to go after Brexit fiasco,” read The Sun newspaper’s front page, while The Times said: “May prepares to quit after cabinet mutiny.”
Pro-Europeans fear Brexit will undermine London’s position as one of the world’s top two financial capitals and weaken the West as it grapples with Trump’s unpredictable presidency and growing assertiveness from Russia and China.
May, who has shown obduracy during one of the most tumultuous premierships of recent British history, had promised to leave office if lawmakers approved her Brexit deal but she is now under intense pressure to name a date.
Nearly three years after the United Kingdom voted 52 per cent to 48 per cent to leave the EU, it remains unclear how, when or even if it will leave the European club it joined in 1973.
The current deadline to leave is October 31.
The bookmakers’ favourite to succeed May is Boris Johnson, the face of the official campaign to leave the EU, who has said he wants a more decisive split with the bloc. More than a dozen others are seen as potential candidates.
If there was an election and the Conservatives lost, the winner would be Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran socialist who wants to nationalise swathes of the British economy.
The chairman of the powerful Conservative 1922 Committee, which can make or break prime ministers, told lawmakers that May planned to campaign in the European poll on Thursday before meeting with the group on Friday to discuss her leadership.
The Times newspaper reported that May would name a date for her departure on Friday.
May will remain as prime minister while her successor is elected in a two-stage process, the newspaper said.
The delay to Brexit means voters across the United Kingdom are going to the polls on Thursday, in a European parliamentary election that has been fought almost exclusively over the EU divorce.
According to polling data published before polls opened, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party was on course to win and May’s Conservatives are on course to do very badly.
Want to comment?
Send us an email, making it clear which story you’re commenting on and including your full name (required for publication) and phone number (only for verification purposes). Please put “Reader views” in the subject.
We’ll publish the best comments in a regular “Reader Views” post. Your comments can be brief, or we can accept up to 350 words, or thereabouts.
InDaily has changed the way we receive comments. Go here for an explanation.
We value local independent journalism. We hope you do too.
InDaily provides valuable, local independent journalism in South Australia. As a news organisation it offers an alternative to The Advertiser, a different voice and a closer look at what is happening in our city and state for free. Any contribution to help fund our work is appreciated. Please click below to become an InDaily supporter.