LONDON – Theresa May is set to announce a timetable for her resignation as U.K. Conservative Party leader and prime minister on Friday after a backlash over her Brexit plans, people familiar with the matter said.
May intends to quit as Tory leader on June 10 so an election to choose her replacement can begin after U.S. President Donald Trump’s state visit to Britain, one of the people said. She wants to remain as a caretaker prime minister while her successor is chosen in a contest that could take six weeks.
The timetable is subject to being agreed on with Graham Brady, the senior Conservative official who oversees the party’s leadership contests, at a meeting on Friday, the people said.
May’s decision heralds the end of a turbulent, three-year premiership that’s been marked by bitter divisions within her party and across Britain over how to leave the European Union.
The U.K. was due to withdraw from the EU on March 29. But May’s inability to get the divorce deal she negotiated in Brussels approved in Britain’s deadlocked Parliament has forced her to delay exit day until October.
With May set to announce her own departure, it will be for her successor to define the course of Brexit. The current favorite is pro-Leave campaigner Boris Johnson, the U.K.’s former Foreign Secretary, who favors a quick, sharp break from the EU. The pound is on a record losing streak as investors weigh up the prospect of a no-deal exit.
May has little choice but to set a date if she is to avoid the humiliation of being hounded from office. She’s facing an ultimatum from her own Tory members of Parliament, many of whom want to replace her as soon as possible.
They are angry with her handling of Brexit and fearful that the party will suffer a crushing defeat in the European Parliament elections at the hands of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.
Tory officials were considering changing the party’s rules to hold a vote to force May out within days. Instead she has decided to go voluntarily. May aims to agree with Brady to postpone the leadership election until after Trump’s visit in early June.
The final crisis of May’s beleaguered leadership began on Tuesday when she announced her last-gasp plan to persuade members of Parliament to back the Brexit deal she spent two years negotiating with the EU. It was instantly rejected, leaving Britain’s divorce from the bloc in disarray and May with nowhere to go.
Pro-Brexit Conservatives including ministers in her Cabinet spent much of Wednesday plotting how to kill off May’s plan. Their main target was to stamp on her idea of letting Parliament vote to allow a second referendum to ratify the terms of the U.K.’s exit.
On Wednesday night, high-profile minister Andrea Leadsom quit May’s Cabinet in protest at her plans. Other ministers — including Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt — made it clear that they didn’t support May’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement Bill.
That draft law — which includes the referendum promise — was due to be put to a vote in the House of Commons in the first week of June but has now been put on ice. May would reflect on what she’s been told by her colleagues, one person familiar with the matter said.
Earlier on Thursday, May seemed to be digging in, with her spokesman insisting she hadn’t given up on delivering Brexit. Government Whip Mark Spencer told parliament in the morning that May still planned to publish the Withdrawal Bill in the first week of June. As Thursday went on, it became clear her position couldn’t last.
“Politics is a nasty sometimes brutal, ghastly business,’ said Iain Duncan Smith, a Brexiter and former Tory leader. ‘She has no confidence, not just within her party but in the cabinet too.”
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