Brexit-scarred Theresa May steps down, leadership race on

The contest to succeed Theresa May as prime minister will begin on Monday as she stepped down as leader of the Conservative party on Friday, leaving behind a trail of political reverses since she took over from David Cameron in the wake of the 2016 EU referendum.

May announced her decision to step down on May 24 following months of mounting criticism over her handling of the Brexit process. She will continue in Downing Street until the new leader, who will become the next prime minister, is announced in July.

The Conservative party suffered several setbacks under her leadership: first losing majority in the House of Commons in the 2017 mid-term elections, and later in elections to local bodies, the European Parliament, and on Friday in the Peterborough by-election.

The Conservative candidate finished third behind Labour and the eight weeks-old Brexit party in the by-election, signifying a new phase in British politics long dominated by Labour, Conservative and the Liberal Democrats.

May, the second woman prime minister in British history after Margaret Thatcher, saw her tenure dominated by Brexit, with her party and the country deeply divided over the issue. She failed to get the withdrawal agreement her team reached with Brussels through the parliament.

Boris Johnson, former foreign secretary and leading Brexiteer, is the favourite among 11 candidates to replace May in the two-phase leadership election. The first phase will see party MPs vote in several rounds from next week until the candidates are whittled down to two.

The second and decisive phase will see over 1.2 lakh party members casting their votes on the two candidates. The winner of the election will be announced in the week beginning July 22, and will take over from May as the next prime minister.

The original date for the UK to leave the EU was March 29, pushed to April 12 amid political rows in London, and now to October 31. May said while announcing her resignation that it is time for a new prime minister to try to deliver Brexit.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has criticised the leadership contest on the ground that the country’s prime minister should be chosen by the people in a general election, and not by 1.2 lakh members of the Conservative party. His party is ready to face a general election, he said.