LONDON: Theresa May must resign as British prime minister and Conservative leader later this year after delivering Brexit, according to politicians at the highest levels of her own government.
May has promised her party she will stand down before the next general election, slated for 2022, but she’s likely to face pressure to go within the next three months.
Once the UK is out of the European Union, and local district elections on May 2 are over, the premier will have no reason to stay in office, one senior minister said, speaking privately. Britain is scheduled to leave the bloc on March 29.
A person familiar with another minister’s views agreed with the timescale, arguing that the prime minister should leave in the summer, so a new leader can be in place in time for the party’s annual conference in October.
A third senior member of May’s administration pointed out that Tories had no way of formally seeking to remove May before December under the party’s internal leadership rules. May will never voluntarily resign, despite her previous pledge, the person said.
Starting the clock on May’s departure means that even if the UK leaves the EU as planned at the end of March, with a divorce agreement in place, the political uncertainty that has defined British politics since 2016 is likely to continue.
Since losing the Conservative party’s ruling majority in a disastrous election campaign in 2017, May has suffered an almost uninterrupted torrent of political blows and criticism over her personal leadership and handling of Brexit.
A succession of Cabinet ministers quit in protest at May’s handling of the EU negotiations, she survived a vote of no confidence in her leadership of the party and another in the government itself. Last month, May’s Brexit deal was rejected in the biggest Commons defeat for any administration in more than a century, and this week three Tories decided they could no longer stay in her party and defected to form a new group.
Last December, in the gravest crisis of her leadership, May made a promise to her party that she would not fight another general election as party leader.
That bought her enough support to survive the vote of no confidence in her leadership of the Conservatives, although one in three Tory members of Parliament voted against her. May is now safe from a similar formal challenge from within her party until December, because party rules state that a repeat vote cannot be triggered for a year.
Yet May’s own advisers believe this won’t stop the party removing her if it wants to do so. For example, a delegation of Cabinet ministers could march into May’s Downing Street office and tell her it’s time to go.
Rival candidates to replace May are said to have begun preparing their campaigns already.
There is likely to be a crowded field of contenders with the names most frequently mentioned including Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd. The former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, and former foreign secretary Boris Johnson are also expected to run.