Theresa May To Step Down Next Month As Britain's Prime Minister

May 24, 2019
Originally published on May 24, 2019 2:05 pm
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Earlier today British Prime Minister Theresa May walked to the podium outside of 10 Downing St. and said this.

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PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: So I am today announcing that I will resign as leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party on Friday the 7 of June so that a successor can be chosen.

KING: May was under pressure to step down after her plans for Brexit, Britain's planned separation from the European Union, failed several times. NPR's Frank Langfitt has been watching this closely from London. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.

KING: So what else did Theresa May say in this announcement today?

LANGFITT: Well, what she said is what we would have expected, that she really regrets not being able to deliver on the democratic will of the people. As we'd all remember, in 2016 there was a giant referendum here in which people voted for Brexit. She tried for, you know, the better part of three years to do this. It didn't work out. And she needs - basically said it's time for the party and the country to have a new leader. She also spoke with great pride and with great emotion about what this prime ministership had meant to her. She's usually seen as pretty wooden, frankly, as a political figure. And this was a very human moment. Let's take a listen.

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MAY: The second female prime minister but certainly not the last. I do so with no ill will but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love.

KING: A lot of emotion for Theresa May, wow.

LANGFITT: Yeah. And you know what, Noel? Just to put a fine point on this, most people who know her say this is what she always wanted to do in her life. It was her sole goal to be prime minister. And she ends, really, after three years with not much to show for it.

KING: Her resignation didn't come as a surprise, though, right?

LANGFITT: (Laughter). No, it's been long overdue. A lot of people would have quit much, much earlier. As you mentioned, she tried to get this Brexit bill through three times as planned. It failed. And she's been flailing for weeks. And it was clear, particularly this week, that she'd lost the confidence of most of her members of Parliament in her Conservative Party. And it seemed - I was out last - just yesterday talking to people.

We're having European parliamentary elections here in the United Kingdom. And many people just felt it's - it's absolutely time for her to go; it's long overdue. And what's going to happen on Sunday is that her Tory Party is expected to do extremely badly. So even if she hadn't resigned today, she would have had to resign, announce her resignation, on Monday.

KING: So what happens next - first, in terms of choosing a new leader and then, secondly, in terms of Brexit, which still needs to happen?

LANGFITT: Well, it's going to be a very - Noel, it's going to be like the Democratic nomination for 2020 against Trump. It's going to be a very crowded field. And what will happen is the members of Parliament in the Conservative Party, they're going to try to winnow it. They will winnow it to two. And then those two candidates will go to the membership of the Conservative Party for what is, to some degree, a popularity contest. They'll try to do it before June - July 20, which is summer recess.

The frontrunner would be Boris Johnson. He's a Brexiteer who might be willing to take the country out of the European Union with no deal at all, just sever ties. He's a Trumpian kind of charismatic, politically incorrect figure. But he really connects to the membership. And then in terms of Brexit, the question is can anybody get anything else through? It'll be interesting to see - I think we are likely to see much more of a harder Brexiteer than we've seen in Prime Minister May.

KING: NPR's London correspondent, Frank Langfitt, on Theresa May's resignation. Frank, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.