Theresa May becomes UK's latest Brexit political casualty

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Theresa May's resignation timetable

Theresa May came into power after the Brexit referendum, yet she never managed to unite the Conservatives. Before stepping down as prime minister, May was one of the most powerful women ever in British politics.

To call Theresa May's resignation the end of an era would be an exaggeration. After all, she was only the United Kingdom's prime minister for a little over two years.

But she has become the face of one of the most important developments in the history of the country: Brexit. This millstone around her neck ultimately proved to be her downfall. But her last gambit, offering the prospect of a possible second referendum and closer trading arrangements with the EU, triggered a revolt by some Brexit-supporting ministers. In the face of overwhelming and increasingly hostile public and political opposition, May finally caved in to the pressure. 

May moved into 10 Downing Street in July 2016. Her predecessor, David Cameron, had stepped down after a majority of voters opted to leave the European Union on June 23, 2016. Cameron had called the referendum himself, hoping to silence euroskeptics in the UK.

Read moreOpinion: What happened to Brexit architect David Cameron?

Who are the candidates to replace Theresa May?

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson is the bookmakers' favorite to become Britain's next prime minister. "BoJo" is widely tipped following stints as mayor of London and as foreign secretary in Theresa May's government. The 54-year-old has threatened to refuse to pay the UK's agreed debts to the EU unless the withdrawal agreement is changed.

Who are the candidates to replace Theresa May?

Dominic Raab

Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, the son of a Jewish refugee who fled Nazi Germany, said the possibility of sidelining parliament to force through Brexit should not be ruled out. He was widely mocked in 2018 when he said he "hadn't quite understood" how reliant UK trade is on the Dover-Calais crossing.

Who are the candidates to replace Theresa May?

Michael Gove

A leading driver behind Brexit, Gove's leadership campaign took a hit when a new book was published revealing he had taken cocaine on several occasions when working as a journalist 20 years ago.

Who are the candidates to replace Theresa May?

Jeremy Hunt

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt's chances improved as Gove's declined. The 52-year-old voted to remain in the EU and claimed he had spoken to Chancellor Angela Merkel about Brexit during the D-Day celebrations. He said she told him: "Germany doesn’t have a border with the Republic of Ireland, you do, so you need to come up with a solution."

Who are the candidates to replace Theresa May?

Sajid Javid

The son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver, Sajid Javid is the current UK Home Secretary (interior minister), a role for which he has received mixed reviews. He had a successful banking career with Chase Manhattan and Deutsche Bank before entering parliament in 2010. During the Brexit referendum, Javid was on the Remain side but — like Theresa May — was guarded in his support for the cause.

Who are the candidates to replace Theresa May?

Esther McVey

Former television presenter Esther McVey declared her intention to stand long before May resigned. The vocal Brexit hardliner resigned as work and pensions secretary in November, protesting at the terms of May’s withdrawal deal. However, in March she voted for the agreement, claiming that it was the only way to ensure Brexit happens. Since then, she has spoken in favor of a no-deal exit.

Who are the candidates to replace Theresa May?

Rory Stewart

Educated at Eton College — the same school attended by Boris Johnson and David Cameron — Rory Stewart is currently International Development Secretary. A former diplomat who trekked thousands of kilometers across the Middle East and South Asia, he also served as a senior official governing parts of post-invasion Iraq. Stewart is strongly opposed to Britain leaving without a deal.

Who are the candidates to replace Theresa May?

Matt Hancock

Health Secretary Matt Hancock entered the race to replace the prime minister the day after her resignation. Although he campaigned for Remain during the referendum, Hancock has said he now believes Britain should leave the EU with a deal. Probably the most tech-savvy of the contenders, Hancock is promoting himself as the candidate best-placed to lead the Tories into the 2020s.

Who are the candidates to replace Theresa May?

Andrea Leadsom

Andrea Leadsom quit as Leader of the House of Commons in the week of May's resignation announcement. Leadsom came second in a leadership bid in 2016 and was heavily criticized at the time for saying that being a mother would give her an advantage as prime minister. This was seen in a poor light as Theresa May had previously spoken of her anguish at not being able to conceive.

Who are the candidates to replace Theresa May?

Mark Harper

A former immigration minister, chief whip and Oxford graduate, Harper was behind the Home Office's "go home" message printed on vans aimed at immigrants. He said it is not credible Brexit could be renegotiated and passed before the end of October and he would go to Brussels and negotiate changes to the backstop. An outsider in the leadership race.

Shewon her first seat in Parliament in 1997 and was chairwoman of the Conservative Party from May 2002 to November 2003. Over the course of her political career, she cultivated an image of decisiveness, unflappability and calm.

Before becoming Britain's second female prime minister, after Margaret Thatcher, May had spent six years and two months as home secretary beginning in 2010 — the longest tenure since James Chuter Ede, who had held the post from early August 1945 to late October 1951.

As home secretary, May made a name for herself with her hard-line positions on immigration, which the government pledged to reduce. In 2015, she gave a controversial speech in which she said immigration made it "impossible to build a cohesive society."

May, however, is also seen as a pragmatist who has taken different positions during her long career in politics. She backed same-sex marriage, for one example.

'Brexit means Brexit'

May's stubbornness proved to be her downfall

In the run-up to the 2016 referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU, May had been part of the "Remain" campaign, but, upon becoming prime minister, she sought to reassure those who had voted to leave that she would respect their wishes.

"Brexit means Brexit," May said, and promised to "make a success" of withdrawing from the EU.

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During her time as prime minister, several terror attacks occurred in the United Kingdom, and a fire at the 24-story Grenfell Tower killed 72 people in June 2017. May visited the burned-down residential building in London the day after the fire, but didn't meet with survivors. She was harshly criticized and later said she would "always regret that by not meeting them that day, it seemed as though I didn't care." 

Read more: Grenfell disaster highlights UK's infrastructure problems

The fire came just weeks after the early general election May had called — which proved to be a mistake. She had hoped that the vote would strengthen her position in Brexit talks with the EU. Instead, it became a humiliation, with the Conservative Party losing 13 seats and its majority in Parliament, forcing her into a deal with the Northern Irish DUP party to prop up her minority government.

Read more: Understanding the populist narrative

The end of a premiership

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02:57 mins.
DW News | 10.04.2019

Historian Garton Ash: Brexit may be worse for EU than UK

From the beginning May faced criticism from some Conservatives and other long-standing Brexit supporters for her white paper on future trade relations with the European Union. Her plan to have a common rule book with the EU following Britain's withdrawal resulted in the resignations of then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit Minister David Davis. His successor Dominic Raab also quit in protest at her withdrawal agreement making incumbent Stephen Barclay the third Brexit minister in the space of two years.

The scuffle about trade rules was only the most recent argument in a long line of disagreements in Parliament and in May's Cabinet about how best to protect national interests during the Brexit negotiations. The other key bone of contention was the so-called Irish backstop, a safety net to ensure an an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the event the UK leaves the EU without securing a deal. Hard-line Brexiteers wanted her to ditch the backstop, arguing that it would handcuff the UK to the EU's customs union indefinitely. Her last, desperate attempt to shore up support for her deal involved weeks of fruitless and ultimately unsuccessful talks with Labour. 

Read more: Brexit: Why is the Irish backstop so controversial?

In the end, the referendum result that had swept May into office has helped bring her down, too.

Theresa May: The (a)politics of clothes

Theresa May's shoe tick

Great Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May has a thing for leopard print, which was first noted when she wore leopard print heels to a Tory party conference in 2002. "The Sun" tabloid recently published a photo of May's characteristic shoes standing on the heads of male Tory politicians. The headline: "Heel Boys." Politically speaking May is known for taking no nonsense in pushing through reforms.

Theresa May: The (a)politics of clothes

May meets Merkel

Theresa May has frequently been compared to German Chancellor Angela Merkel: Both were raised by Protestant clergy fathers, both are childless and are known for their persistence. Merkel, whose endless collection of boxy, often drab pantsuits have earned her a reputation as a fashion dud, simply doesn't comment on clothes. But May is open about her hobby. The two leaders meet in Berlin on July 20.

Theresa May: The (a)politics of clothes

Style is allowed

"Theresa May has a subscription to 'Vogue' and the keys to number 10 Downing Street and, unlike any of the post's previous incumbents, she does not see a conflict in that fact," wrote "The Guardian's" Imogen Fox, calling May a "leader who unashamedly enjoys fashion." May is pictured entering 10 Downing Street as the new prime minister on July 13, just after a meeting with Queen Elizabeth.

Theresa May: The (a)politics of clothes

A kiss for the Conservatives

"Kitten heels are to Mrs May what a large bottom is to Kim Kardashian, both embrace their appearance to push their agenda - albeit the former in a more dignified way than the latter," wrote "The Telegraph" earlier this month. But what would Kim say about these bold kiss mouth ballerinas? While the internet has been awash with fashion advice for May, others insist her politics should be the focus.

Theresa May: The (a)politics of clothes

Dressed for the Queen

Theresa May was welcomed by Queen Elizabeth, who appointed her as prime minister on July 13. The Queen is known for her penchant for uni-tone outfits in bold solid colors. Perhaps May's much talked about florescent yellow skirt was a nod to the royal mum's own style.

Theresa May: The (a)politics of clothes

A suit statement

Clothes can carry messages. When Theresa May, on her second full day in office, met Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh, she boldly donned the colors of the Union Jack - complete with stylishly pointed red heels. May had weakly opposed Brexit, but switched camps in the run-up to becoming prime minister. Sturgeon's solid blue suit paired with a white top echoed the Scottish flag.

Theresa May: The (a)politics of clothes

Sparkling steps

Pictured in June 2015 in London, Theresa May sports bejeweled royal blue flats with tassles. The BBC listed her shoe fetish in its "Seven notable things about the UK's next prime minister." Beyond her closet, May is known for pushing through police reforms and well as increased surveillance policies in a bid to curb terrorism fears. She's said to be a tough, but polite negotiator.

Theresa May: The (a)politics of clothes

Accessories: Not just shoes

May is pictured here at the 2016 Henley Royal Regatta, an annual rowing event on the Thames. She is often seen with elegant hats - which, admittedly, seems typically British. Her attention to details - from head to foot - accentuate her femininity, while other female politicians like Hillary Clinton seem focused on neutrality. Will May's passion for fashion inspire other women in politics?

Rob Mudge also contributed to this report

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