Prime Minister Theresa May announced her resignation in an emotional address on Friday, ending a dramatic three-year tenure of near-constant crisis over Brexit and increasing the likelihood of Britain crashing out of the EU later this year.
“It is and will always remain a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit,” May, her voice breaking and close to tears, said outside her Downing Street office.
The 62-year-old leader said she would step down as head of the Conservative Party on June 7.
She will remain as prime minister in a caretaker role until a replacement is elected by the party before July 20.
The party’s leader automatically becomes prime minister.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s resignation looks likely to make Britain’s looming departure from the EU even more difficult, with some suggesting a hard or “no-deal” Brexit is now almost inevitable.
Here are the main reactions to the announcement she will step down as leader of the Conservative Party, and hence also as Prime Minister, on June 7.
– No change –
The European Union said the resignation does nothing to change its position on the Brexit withdrawal deal agreed with Britain.
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker noted May’s decision “without personal joy”, a spokeswoman said, adding that the council of EU leaders has “set out its position” on the Brexit deal.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, tweeted that he “would like to express my full respect for @theresa_may and for her determination, as Prime Minister, in working towards the #UK’s orderly withdrawal from the EU”.
– ‘Deliver Brexit’ –
One of the leading contenders to succeed May, Britain’s former foreign minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “A very dignified statement from @theresa_may. Thank you for your stoical service to our country and the Conservative Party. It is now time to follow her urgings: to come together and deliver Brexit.”
– ‘Rapid clarification’ –
French President Emmanuel Macron hailed May for her “courageous work” in seeking to implement Brexit in the interests of her country while showing respect for Britain’s European partners.
But the Elysee statement added: “The principles of the EU will continue to apply, with the priority on the smooth functioning of the EU, and this requires a rapid clarification.”
“At a time of an important choice, votes of rejection that do not offer an alternative project will lead to an impasse.”
– Merkel’s ‘respect’ –
German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted May’s decision “with respect”, saying they shared a “good and trusting” working relationship, according to her spokeswoman.
Pledging to keep working with May in the same spirit as long as she is in office, Merkel noted Berlin “wishes to maintain close cooperation and a close relationship with the British government”, spokeswoman Martina Fietz said.
Fietz declined to comment on how the resignation could affect Brexit, as “the development depends essentially on domestic political developments in Britain”.
– ‘Misjudged the mood’ –
Anti-EU populist Nigel Farage, whose Brexit Party is leading opinion polls in Britain, blamed May for misjudging the mood of her country by trying to preserve close trade ties with the bloc.
“It is difficult not to feel for Mrs May, but politically she misjudged the mood of the country and her party. Two Tory leaders have now gone whose instincts were pro-EU,” he wrote in a tweet, referring to May and her predecessor David Cameron.
– ‘Very difficult period’ –
In Moscow, the Kremlin said that May’s premiership has been a very difficult time for Russia’s relations with Britain.
“Mrs May’s stint as prime minister has come during a very difficult period in our bilateral relations,” said President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
– ‘Impossible to stop’ –
The Madrid government warned that a no-deal Brexit now appears almost inevitable.
“Under these circumstances, a hard Brexit appears to be a reality that is near impossible to stop,” Spanish government spokeswoman Isabel Celaa told reporters, adding that the British government and parliament would be “solely responsible for a no-deal exit (from the EU) and its consequences”.
– Pound wobbles –
On the financial markets, sterling briefly sank below $1.27 but did not reach the four-month lows that were plumbed a day earlier and was still higher compared to late Thursday, as dealers argued that the resignation news had already been priced in.
Stock markets mostly rebounded with US President Donald Trump offering an “olive branch” to China in their trade war, dealers said.