Tearful Theresa May has finally announced her resignation after years of Brexit gridlock – in a moment that hurls Britain into fresh chaos.
The embattled Prime Minister choked with emotion as she confirmed she will stand down as Tory leader on Friday 7 June – paving the way for a new PM.
Mrs May finally caved to a Tory mutiny in a moving statement outside 10 Downing Street.
Watched by her grim-faced husband Philip in the spring sunshine, she said finding a new Prime Minister is now in “the best interests of the country”.
She said it was a matter of “deep regret” that her Brexit deal failed three times. She added: “I have done everything I can to convince MPs to back that deal. Sadly I have not been able to do so.”
It triggers a chaotic Tory leadership contest that could make a hard Brexiteer Prime Minister and pitch the UK towards a no-deal exit on October 31. Jeremy Corbyn demanded an immediate general election.
The PM will remain in post, first as a lame duck when Donald Trump visits the UK on June 3, then as a caretaker while the contest to replace her takes place.
Her voice choked with emotion as she said: “I will shortly leave the job that it has been the honour of my life to hold.
The second female Prime Minister,” she said, “but certainly not the last.”
Her voice finally broke as she said: “I [leave] with no ill will, but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to have served the country I love.
Mrs May used her moving speech to warn her successor – likely to be a hard Brexiteer – that consensus in Parliament wouldn’t magic itself into existence.
She quoted an organiser of the Kindertransport evacuation, Sir Nicholas Winton, who told her: “Life depends on compromise.”
She added: “It is and will always remain a matter of deep regret that that I have not been able to deliver Brexit.
It will be for my successor to seek a way forward that honours the result of the referendum.
“To succeed, he or she will have to find consensus in Parliament where I have not.
“Such a consensus can only be reached if those on all sides of the debate are willing to compromise.”
Unions and Labour demanded an immediate general election to stop a PM appointed by just 120,000 Tory members driving through a hard Brexit.
Jeremy Corbyn declared: “The Prime Minister is right to have resigned. She has now accepted what the country has known for months: she cannot govern, and nor can her divided and disintegrating party.
“The burning injustices she promised to tackle three years ago are even starker today.
“The Conservative Party has utterly failed the country over Brexit and is unable to improve people’s lives or deal with their most pressing needs.”
Mrs May’s hand was forced after a last-ditch attempt to convince MPs to back her Brexit plan – by promising a possible second referendum – prompted Tory bedlam.
Commons leader Andrea Leadsom resigned in protest and key Cabinet ministers, including Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt, met the PM to warn her the game was up.
Meanwhile Tory backbenchers on the 1922 Committee threatened to change party rules and force Mrs May out if she refused to stand down.
She announced her decision moments after a meeting this morning with 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady.
Mrs May was holed up in her constituency home with husband Philip last night before slinking in the back door of No10 just before 9am.
Her speech was meant to be kept secret but was announced to the entire press pack in an accidental No10 e-mail – a final gaffe that is a metaphor for her time as PM.
The decision is a humiliating final act for the ‘Dancing Queen’ Prime Minister, who repeatedly had to cut short her ambitions and saw Brexit derail her attempts to roll back the most extreme parts of Tory austerity.
The pledge she made when she took office in July 2016 to tackle “burning injustices” was made a mockery as her premiership was forced to focus entirely on Brexit.
Her disastrous choice to call a snap election in 2017 saw her lose the majority hard-won by David Cameron and plunge Brexit into crisis.
And her premiership was marked by U-turn and humiliation, from being mocked for holding hands with Donald Trump to scrapping the hated “dementia tax”.
Today marks the fourth time she has brought forward her resignation after initially promising it in the 2022 general election – then repeatedly trying to appease her MPs.
And she did not even make it to a fourth vote on her Brexit deal with the EU after the first three failed by 230 votes, 149 votes and 58 votes.
A leadership contest is expected to take around six weeks and will put the decision about Britain’s next PM in the hands of Tory members – many of whom are hard Brexiteers.
GMB General Secretary Tim Roache said: “This Government has given us more farcical scenes than The Thick Of It and more brutal be-headings than Game of Thrones.
“But no one is going to be sorry when this series ends, working people are sick of the Tories focusing on who is going to take Theresa May ’s job when thousands across the country are losing theirs.”
Boris Johnson is the frontrunner and Tory moderates are now hoping they can steer him to re-enter talks with the EU rather than crashing out with no deal.
Mr Johnson has already confirmed he will run, as has hard Brexiteer Esther McVey.