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After years of Brexit turmoil, UK’s May to step down

Britain's ruling Conservative Party is in search of a new leader, and the country in search of a new prime minister. After less than three years in office, Theresa May announced her resignation Friday, acknowledging that the time for her to try to usher in Brexit had concluded. May’s turbulent tenure was defined by the UK’s struggle to withdraw from the European Union. Judy Woodruff reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    With Prime Minister Theresa May's fall from power, Britain now faces a central question: Who, if anyone, can lead the country out of its morass over quitting the European Union?

    The search for an answer began this morning in London. The prime minister emerged from 10 Downing Street acknowledging that her time trying to deliver Brexit is over.

  • Theresa May:

    I have done everything I can to convince M.P.s to back that deal. Sadly, I have not been able to do so. But it is now clear to me that it is in the best interests of the country for a new prime minister to lead that effort.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It was an emotional moment for the Conservative Party leader, stepping aside after less than three years as prime minister.

  • Theresa May:

    I do so with no ill will, but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    May's turbulent term was defined by Brexit, the deal she negotiated with the European Union, and her ultimate failure in Parliament. She took over in July of 2016, having opposed Brexit, after her predecessor, David Cameron, resigned.

    He had campaigned against leaving the E.U., but it won 52 percent of the vote in a referendum.

  • David Cameron:

    The British people have made a very clear decision to take a different path. And, as such, I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And when May began her Brexit negotiations, many conservatives had high hopes.

  • Jeremy Hunt:

    There is no one who is going to be able to negotiate the right deal for Britain better than Theresa May. She is battling for Britain.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last July, May and her Cabinet finally reached a deal with the E.U., spelling out the terms of Brexit.

  • Theresa May:

    Mr. Speaker, this is the right Brexit, leaving the European Union on the 29th of March, 2019.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But leading Brexit advocates, like Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, resigned over that deal almost immediately. They charged it could keep Britain tied to the E.U. for years to come.

    Despite May's pleas, Parliament rejected the deal three times, finally pushing back the Brexit date to October 31 of this year.

  • Theresa May:

    This delay is a matter of great personal regret for me. And of this, I am absolutely sure: You, the public, have had enough.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, the opposition Labor leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said, the truth is, supporters and opponents alike have had enough of Theresa May.

  • Jeremy Corbyn:

    She clearly cannot command a majority in Parliament. She clearly has lost the confidence of her own M.P.s, and in all the discussions she's been having with her M.P.s, they have all said one thing to her, that they don't support her strategy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now leading Brexiteers in Conservative Party ranks are vying to replace May. Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is the early favorite. Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and former leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom are seen as likely contenders.

    Leadsom quit just this week, finally tipping the balance against May. Moderate Conservatives, like foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, may step forward, too. But after recent local elections saw heavy losses by the Conservatives, the opposition is calling for a new general election.

  • Jeremy Corbyn:

    There has to be another opportunity for the people of this country to decide who they want to be in their government, how they want the government to be run, what the long-term strategy is of that government. I think we need a general election. We don't need another Tory leader installed by Tory M.P.s.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Theresa May formally steps down as Conservative Party leader on June 7. But she will remain as a caretaker prime minister until the party chooses its new leader.

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