UK Prime Minister Theresa May has announced she will step down as leader of the Conservative party and, by extension, Prime Minister.
This morning May told Sir Graham Brady, chair of the influential 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, that she intended to leave her position next Friday, 7 June. She will remain as Prime Minister while the Conservatives go through the process of selecting a new leader.
The Prime Minister staved off an attempted vote of no confidence instigated by her party in December 2018 with the announcement that she would resign as party leader before the next general election, set to take place in 2022. In March this year May declared she would step down before the “next phase” of Brexit negotiations – although this would be contingent on the success in the House of Commons of her Brexit withdrawal agreement, which to date has failed to pass a parliamentary vote three times – and last week she told the 1922 Committee that she would set out a timetable for her departure after the second reading of her Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB).
May has been under pressure to resign over her handling of Brexit, with multiple Cabinet ministers making it clear this week that they could not support the terms of the WAB – in particular clauses allowing MPs to vote on the prospect of a second referendum and a temporary customs union. On Wednesday, 22 May, in the aftermath of the Prime Minister’s announcement of the WAB reading, several ministers attempted to secure meetings with May to demand she withdraw the bill – a coded demand for May’s resignation, as she had closely tied her premiership with the WAB – while Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom resigned in protest. Meanwhile the 1922 Committee held a vote on whether to change the party’s rules on votes of no confidence, which currently restrict such votes to one per year; with a view to holding another vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister in June. The Committee has sealed the results of the vote, with the intention of opening them if May did not resign by the end of this week.
Former Foreign Secretary and Brexit enthusiast Boris Johnson is currently the frontrunner to take over the leadership of the Conservative party, due to begin on 10 June. Despite expressions of dismay from centre-leaning and Remain-supporting Conservatives, Johnson enjoys high levels of support from the party’s membership; as well as MPs including Jacob Rees-Mogg, chair of the hard right Conservative faction the European Research Group, and disgraced former defence secretary Gavin Williamson.