British Prime Minister Theresa May announced Friday that she “will shortly leave the job that has been the honor of my life to hold.”
The long-anticipated address, outside Downing Street, confirms that May will step down as the leader of the Conservative Party on June 7. She will remain prime minister until the party chooses a new leader, a process that will take approximately six weeks.
In many ways, May’s announcement marks a solemn end to a profoundly weak yet surprisingly stable premiership. But if the past three turbulent years of parliamentary deadlock, infighting, and division have demonstrated anything, it’s that May’s leadership ended a long time ago.
Her premiership didn’t begin that way. When May succeeded David Cameron as prime minister in July 2016, she inherited a parliamentary majority and a 20-point lead in the polls over the opposition Labour Party. She was dubbed the “New Iron Lady,” in a favorable nod to the country’s only other female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. But she also inherited a policy challenge of historic proportions: to deliver on a referendum result she didn’t support, and take Britain out of the European Union.
Whatever strength she had at the start of her premiership, she quickly lost. First, May made the consequential decision on March 29, 2017, to trigger Article 50, the EU’s time-limited exit procedure, thereby setting into motion a two-year countdown for the country’s departure. Less than a month later, in a profound miscalculation, she announced a snap general election in a bid to increase a parliamentary majority that she would ultimately come to lose. By the time negotiations with the EU formally kicked off in Brussels in July, May lacked a governing majority and, crucially, a plan. Time had already started running out.