Theresa May steps down as Conservative Party leader

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May formally stepped down as Conservative Party leader on Friday, a date that had been set after her defeat by the Brexit conundrum.

May will remain as PM for a few weeks while the party picks a successor

Prime Minister Theresa May is shown last month in London. After an attempt to bring her Brexit withdrawal plan to Parliament a fourth time for a vote, she was forced to resign. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/Pool Photo via AP)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May formally stepped down as Conservative Party leader on Friday, a date that had been set after her defeat by the Brexit conundrum.

No public event was planned to mark the occasion as May's time at the helm ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.

On Friday afternoon, the party's 1922 Committee confirmed it had received May's formal resignation letter.

Almost a dozen Conservative lawmakers are already jostling to replace May in a contest that formally opens Monday, vowing to succeed where she failed and renegotiate Britain's divorce deal with the European Union.

There's just one problem: the EU says that's not going to happen.

"There will be no renegotiation," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said — not for the first time — last week.

Ever since Britain voted in 2016 to leave the EU, the other 27 nations in the bloc have presented a united front in negotiations, finally agreeing late last year to a detailed divorce plan with May's government.

Across the English Channel, Brexit has shattered the U.K.'s political map. May's Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party are both fractured over how to leave the EU. May's carefully crafted Brexit deal with the bloc has been thrown out three times by Parliament, and departure day has been postponed from March 29 until Oct. 31.

Frustrated and angry voters are turning away from the big parties to the upstart Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage and — on the other side of the European divide — the Liberal Democrats and Greens, who want Britain to remain in the EU.

Brexit Party candidate Mike Greene gestures as newly elected Labour Party MP Lisa Forbes speaks at the by-election count centre in Peterborough, England. (Darren Staples/Getty Images)

Farage's Brexit Party came close to winning its first seat in Parliament on Friday, narrowly losing to Labour in a special election in the eastern England city of Peterborough. Labour's share of the vote fell sharply from the last election in 2017, and the Conservatives came third.

Despite the loss, Farage said the result showed British politics had "fundamentally changed," with the stranglehold of the long-dominant Conservative and Labour parties now broken.

It's too soon to say whether he is right, but the bigger parties are worried.

1st ballot in Conservative race June 13

May will remain as prime minister for a few weeks while the party picks a successor, who will become Britain's next prime minister. Conservative lawmakers will hold a ballot June 13, with any candidates who don't get at least 5 per cent of votes dropping out. Further rounds will be held on June 18, 19 and 20 if needed, with the least popular candidate dropping out each time.

The final two candidates will be put to a postal ballot of about 160,000 Conservative members, with the winner announced the week of July 22.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May resigns as leader of the Conservative Party on June 7th. But she will stay on as a lame duck Prime Minister until her successor is chosen. Today on Front Burner, CBC Europe Correspondent Margaret Evans on who that successor might be, and what they'll have to grapple with as the country faces down Brexit: "It's a huge, huge mess in this country. People are angry, they're scared, they're tired of it." 23:30

The race, which already has 11 candidates, is dominated by Brexit.

The front-runner, Boris Johnson, has warned the Conservatives face "extinction" if Britain doesn't leave the EU on Oct. 31.

Johnson is one of several contenders — including Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Health Secretary Matt Hancock — promising to go back to Brussels and make changes to the Brexit deal.

"I believe that European leaders want to find a way through this," Gove wrote in the Daily Mail. He said Britain was "on course to leave by Oct. 31," but he'd be willing to agree to a further delay if needed to finalize a deal.

Proroguing Parliament not appealing to most

But the chances Britain's 27 EU partners would consider reopening the legally binding divorce agreement appear slim at best. Even as the Brexit saga has dragged on and the pressure of a potentially disastrous "no deal" Brexit mounted, no European leader has publicly shown an appetite for renegotiating any part of the 585-page text.

The EU has also completed its no-deal preparations, and while many in Brussels hope U.K. Parliament would prevent the country crashing out of the bloc, most are reluctantly resigned to the possibility that it could happen.

Hard-core Brexiteers in the leadership contest say they would rather leave the bloc with no deal than countenance a further delay.

A street cleaner sweeps outside 10 Downing Street in London on Friday. May will remain as prime minister for several more days, with plenty of leadership candidates bidding to succeed her despite the Brexit withdrawal riddle that has dogged the party the past two years. (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)

Most economists and businesses say a no-deal Brexit would cause economic turmoil, imposing obstacles overnight between the U.K. and the EU, its biggest trading partner. And Parliament has repeatedly voted to rule out leaving without a deal, though it's not clear how lawmakers could stop a prime minister who was determined to do it.

Leadership candidate Dominic Raab has suggested he'd be willing to suspend Parliament — a process known as prorogation — if legislators looked set to delay Brexit.

Rivals distanced themselves from that idea.

"Our Parliament is sovereign. I am not into this proroguing Parliament rubbish," said Home Secretary Sajid Javid. "It is just a complete nonsense and anti-democratic and anti-British."


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