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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
British Prime Minister Theresa May Resigns; Interview with Labour MP Rupa Huq on May's Legacy. Aired 8-8:45a ET
Aired May 24, 2019 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.
ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It is 1:00 pm here in London. I'm Isa Soares. You've joined us for breaking news coverage of the U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May announcing her resignation date.
This following for several hours now since the prime minister delivered that speech. Prime minister Theresa May's premiership is now in its final phase after announcing she will resign as Conservative leader on June 7th.
Now Ms. May's resignation will trigger a Conservative Party leadership election and the winner of that will be Britain's next prime minister.
At the end of her resignation speech, a very clearly emotional Theresa May, something that we rarely see. She revealed how much being prime minister has meant to her.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I will shortly leave the job that it has been the honor of my life to hold -- the second female prime minister but certainly not the last. I do so with no ill will but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES: A very emotional Theresa May. You can hear the cracks in her voice there. Phil Black is outside 10 Downing Street.
Phil, of course, there has been so much speculation that this was coming, a question of just when. Nevertheless, incredibly emotional for her.
PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, particularly at the end. That emotion swelled, built up and broke through her voice. Just as she was talking her -- what you can describe in what a dignified way about what an honor it had been to be prime minister and about her love of country. Other than that, I think the speech was what we probably would have
expected, an explanation of her efforts and motivations in trying to deliver Brexit because, ultimately, now that's she's leaving, she will be remembered as the prime minister who did not deliver on the Brexit referendum results.
She talked about why it was important to perseverance. She also tried to create something of a positive legacy for herself, talking about other economic factors and so forth. But that felt kind of squashed into the speech.
The point is that this was a prime minister tasked with the job of bringing Britain out of the European Union. She said she tried to do her best; she tried three times to get a withdrawal agreement through Parliament and ultimately she failed. She said today that would always be a source of deep regret to her.
SOARES: And, Phil, I'm guessing, I wonder how history will really remember her in terms of will it be kind to her. She faced so much criticism, not just from those within her own party.
What kind of a response have we been hearing the last few hours to following her speech?
BLACK: Well, I think people have been very kind about her and about her speech on this significant day, much kinder than many of these same people have been through the course of her premiership.
The word dignified has been used to describe her performance in her accepting the inevitable, that she must leave office in the near future. But these are often from political rivals, who have been deeply, sharply critical of her policies, her courses of action, as she has in particular wrestled with that most significant and defining of issues, Brexit.
Now a lot of these same characters in her party, senior members will very soon be entering a contest to fight it out to replace her, to become her successor, the leadership.
The headlines, in terms of the timetable, Theresa May made it clear that she will step down as leader of the party on the 7th of June. She will stay prime minister in name if not completely in authority while the Conservative Party goes about the effort of determining just who its next leader will be and, ultimately, who the next prime minister will be as well.
SOARES: And, Phil, of course, she will remain prime minister until that day, June 7th. That means she will meet U.S. president Donald Trump on his visit to the U.K.
How awkward do you think that will be for her?
BLACK: You have to think a little awkward but perhaps not as awkward as it could have been. The reason she is not standing down before then is just to do the logistics of that visit to a significant degree. So she will remain in full title -- [08:05:00]
BLACK: -- prime minister and leader of her party while Britain is hosting Donald Trump.
It will be, no doubt, fascinating to watch whether or not there is some form of intervention by the American president in this whole issue while he is here because he is someone who has expressed opinions on these issues before.
It was during his last visit to the United Kingdom that he expressed and essentially gave a vote of support to the man who was very likely considered to replace Theresa May, the former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson.
Trump has previously said he thought Johnson would make a great prime minister. At that point, however, the contest will not be fully open. But still, it will be a difficult job for Theresa May to see out these last few weeks with the same dignity that we've seen from her here today.
SOARES: Phil Black outside 10 Downing Street for us, thanks very much, Phil.
I'm joined now by political analyst Carole Walker.
Carole, you and I and many others have been expecting this for quite some time. I want to get your sense of what you heard today from Theresa May. It was very emotional.
CAROLE WALKER, POLITICAL ANALYST: It was. It was a dignified speech. It was an attempt by the prime minister to defend her record; difficult, though, that is. But the emotion showed through at the end and we saw her voice breaking as she came to the conclusion, saying she was the second female prime minister this country has had and making clear her regret and sadness at having to leave, as she put it, the honor that she had had and the job that she loved.
SOARES: Many will say that she had one job to do and that job was to deliver Brexit and she failed at that.
WALKER: And I think ultimately that will be seen as her legacy. I was talking to Lord Baker, a real Conservative grandee, someone who was a senior minister in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet.
He said that he felt that history would be kind to Theresa May. I'm not sure I agree with him. She did certainly try. I think no one would fault her commitment and her sincere efforts to get the deal through. The problem is the compromise she sought pleased no one. And it wasn't attractive to the opposition, either.
SOARES: And on the way here, I was hearing her speech and said compromise is not a dirty word. Some would say, in fact, she compromised too little too late.
WALKER: I think having lost her majority in that general election in 2017, if she had tried at that stage, sincerely, to try to build consensus within her party across Parliament, it might have been possible to build sufficient support to get her deal through. She really left it far too late.
Very often, she didn't even get the cabinet on side before making announcements, making changes, offering out concessions to try to get one group or another on board. And once she made it clear that she was going to accede to those who didn't want a no deal Brexit, there was no reason for the E.U. to compromise further.
So I think ultimately her negotiating strategy failed and I think that is what she will be represented for. It was interesting that she did go back to the words that she uttered when she first became prime minister, talking about how she wanted to heal the burning injustices in the country. But I'm afraid many will say that because her government was so consumed by Brexit she failed to deliver on that, too.
SOARES: Do you think there was a plan right from the beginning?
Or do you think she made it up as she went along?
WALKER: I think the problem was there was too much of an attempt to get through the next hurdle, just get beyond the next day, get to the end of the week and I think that she utterly failed to have a long- term strategy.
And ultimately she was in a situation where she was never going to please everyone. And by trying to keep all sides on board, she pleased no one.
SOARES: Carole Walker, thank you very much.
A leading London business group is calling for a quick decision on a new prime minister because businesses don't like uncertainty. It says whomever is chosen needs to avert a messy and disorderly exit from the European Union. Our Anna Stewart has been keeping an eye on all the reaction in the financial markets and joins us from London.
Anna, for markets and --
SOARES: -- for businesses alike, this is nervewracking because yet more uncertainty, more unknowns.
What are you hearing?
What are they telling you?
ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In terms of the markets, it was interesting that the pound did rise ever so slightly during the speech. There were some gains earlier but I'll bring it to you now. It's looking very flat.
Although an emotional reservation for the prime minister a very unemotional reaction here in terms of the markets. As you said, there are risks here. So I mean, this has been a long time coming and priced in the fact that the prime minister would eventually resign. There is some certainty now as to the next steps. But the big concern, both for markets and for business, is who takes over next.
SOARES: Anna, thank you very much. Apologies, Anna. I don't know if I interrupted you. My signal seems to have been broken. But I wanted to ask you very quickly, in terms of the next prime minister, are the markets keeping an eye on any one individual?
Is there one person that the markets and investors would like to see take up the position at 10 Downing Street?
STEWART: I think the markets are taking a look at this much like the rest of us and seeing that, certainly in terms of favorites, Boris Johnson seems to be emerging as one and he is a staunch Brexiteer.
That wouldn't necessarily spell very good news for business and for markets with the risk of a no deal Brexit or a hard Brexit, of WTO rules, of tariffs, of customs, that would be costly.
So analysts speaking today are saying really for the pound looking forward, we're looking at downside risks, really, regarding the leadership contest. The businesses, they just want whatever happens next to be fast.
You mentioned some of the business bodies. The BCC was very interesting in the fact that they said Downing Street must not simply usher in a longer period of posturing and jester politics.
The CBI said winner takes all; politics is not working. They don't want this to become the big focus. They want Brexit wrapped up sooner rather than later.
SOARES: This affects everything, doesn't it.
Anna Stewart, thank you very much.
The Dutch prime minister says, despite Ms. May's resignation, the Brexit deal negotiated with the U.K. and the E.U. remains on the table. Joining me now Labour MP Rupa Huq.
Rupa, thank you very much for coming here. I spoke to you two days ago
SOARES: -- and I remember you telling me that Theresa May was on borrowed time. Let me get a sense of how you see her words today.
RUPA HUQ, LABOUR MP: Yes, she's been in office but not in power for a very long time. And the inevitable happened today. She's the author of her own downfall because very early on she set these red lines and then she refused to negotiate with anyone apart from her own side, who all turned to knife her in the back anyway.
SOARES: She said today that compromise is not a dirty word and she clearly believes she has compromised.
Do you think she has compromised?
HUQ: She hasn't budged a centimeter, a millimeter. So what she was offering in that latest version of the deal, the record-breakingly rejected deal, remember, it's her three defeats, including the biggest ever one in the history of Parliament.
Some of the other things she's broken records, she's had the most resignations of any cabinet.
HUQ: Week to week, it seems to have changed. So I think, really, by setting her own red lines and boxing herself in, she left herself no room for maneuver. Now we're launched in to a Tory leadership contest. It's her own party who has done this to her.
SOARES: And on that, how worried are you about who becomes the next prime minister?
Will that make Leavers work even harder to try and get what you want when it comes to Brexit?
HUQ: It's not just about what is good for the party. It's about what is good for the country. And this entire exercise has been about keeping this frayed and now fractured and ultimately it may split into two parts together because we know that --
SOARES: Let me interrupt you there. I hear Jeremy Corbyn is speaking.
If we have that live, let's take a listen to it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Isn't this not good in terms of where your party wants to see Brexit go?
In all likelihood, you'll have a Brexiteer prime minister coming in who's maybe more favorable toward going for a no deal Brexit.
Haven't you shot yourself in the foot a little bit by not compromising and taking those concessions that Ms. May was offering?
JEREMY CORBYN, LEADER, U.K. LABOUR PARTY: Not in the slightest because she wasn't really offering concessions. What she was offering had already been put on the table. Yes, we want to prevent a no deal Brexit. And we will do everything in Parliament to prevent a no deal Brexit. But the reality is --
[08:15:00] CORBYN: -- a new Conservative leader isn't going to solve the problem. There has to be another opportunity for 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 another general election.
We don't need another Tory leader installed by Tory MPs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what should be the first thing a new prime minister does when they come office?
CORBYN: Call a general election so we can decide the direction we go as a country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
SOARES: And there you have Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, the opposition party. Earlier today, we heard him say he wants a general election, which is what you would expect from the leader of the opposition.
HUQ: Well, it's what the country needs, really, because we have a Parliament that is in complete gridlock, stalemate, deadlock, cul-de- sac, impasse, whatever you call it. So no legislation, nothing seems to be done there. Nobody can agree on this Brexit deal. You've got 650 MPs who brought out no deal but they haven't ruled in what they do want.
So either you get rid of them and you get 650 new ones, who might be able to agree on something or you have a people's vote, a confirmatory referendum on the deal at the end of it, whatever it is decided because that mandate from 2016 is very aged now.
SOARES: The chances, though, of actually having that if you get a Brexiteer for the next leader and the next prime minister is the likes of a Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab, what are their chances of having that vote?
HUQ: I think these people are terrified of democracy. You need a democratic renewal. Democracy is the will of the people, which this whole thing was predicated on. But they're terrified of putting it back to the people because people now know that Brexit (INAUDIBLE). We know already the jobs that have been lost.
We know every region of our country, every industry would be really hardhit and the latest opinion polls are showing that 60 percent of people would want to remain if you did this again. That's why don't want --
SOARES: -- polls from showing different things.
HUQ: Well, we need to test it, then. We need a fresh -- (CROSSTALK)
SOARES: OK, that's a fair point. If you have the likes of a Dominic Raab or a Boris Johnson, what do you think will be the biggest challenge for the Labour Party?
HUQ: I think all of them would be bad for the country because they are playing to the gallery. We have a tiny number of people, 100,000 Conservative Party members, who are really quite extreme, very aged, not representative of a nation of 60 million people that are choosing our next prime minister. I think it's worrying for democracy.
SOARES: Thank you very much, good to see you.
And just ahead here, we have reaction pouring in to British prime minister Theresa May's decision to step down. And from some in the opposition, it is quite frankly pretty brutal. We'll bring you that after a short break. You are watching CNN, the world's leading news program (sic).
SOARES: A very warm welcome back to CNN. It is about 10:00 here in London. Theresa May has announced that she will be stepping down as leader of the Conservative Party and prime minister of the country on June 7th. That will, of course, trigger the leadership contest for the Conservative Party as well as prime minister.
One of the front-runners to replace Theresa May as Conservative Party leader and ultimately prime minister is Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary tweeted after her resignation the following.
"A very dignified statement from Theresa May. Thank you for your stoical service to our country and the Conservative Party. It is now time to follow her urgings, to come together and deliver Brexit."
And one Conservative MP Helen Grant has resigned her government position to actively support a rival to Boris Johnson, former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab. Joining me now is the Robin Niblett, the director of Chatham House, London's international affairs think tank.
Robin, thank you so much for joining us.
Did you expect this to happen?
ROBIN NIBLETT, DIRECTOR, CHATHAM HOUSE: Yes --
SOARES: I think everyone did, right? NIBLETT: Today was the day. The meeting was (INAUDIBLE) committee, the sealed letters waiting there in the drawer to be pulled out.
SOARES: What did you make of what Theresa May had to say?
NIBLETT: I can't add anything beyond what everyone has already said. I think she communicated that sense of duty, which was there with her from the beginning. Ultimately there is the element of self-reference and almost an inability to understand the situation you're in, which I think characterized a lot of her prime ministership.
I do feel personally she could have made the choice at the beginning, to go hard Brexit to prove she was really behind it at the beginning and as she realized compromise would have to be made, she started to tack towards the compromise side.
Having got the blood up of the Brexiteers in the beginning of her premiership, she was then having to abandon them for the compromises at the end. And neither side trusted her, neither the Remain minded nor the hard Brexiteers. So in a way, her valedictory comments reflected some of that inability to --
SOARES: Do you think her legacy will be that or do you think whoever takes up the -- as prime minister next will have similar struggles and in light of what's coming, she might not be seen in such a bad light after all?
NIBLETT: I think everyone was hoping she will carry the can for the Brexit, the withdrawal deal, paying over 40 billion euros, the two- year period where she would have to follow E.U. laws and not have a say over them.
The ideal thing was for any future leader to say well, that was Theresa May; I would have done it differently. Now whoever takes over is going to have to own Brexit, lock, stock and barrel, the leaving part and the future relationship. And they're going to face the same dilemma she faced.
SOARES: We quoted that tweet from Boris Johnson. He was one of the many within her own party who were highly critical of her. Now he's one of the leading contenders for the position.
Do you think it needs to be a Brexiteer?
NIBLETT: I think it needs to be somebody who was in favor of Brexit when the referendum happened. I think the Conservative Party base, which has been dwindling, is going to demand somebody who they believe feels in their heart --
SOARES: So Dominic Robb.
NIBLETT: Or Boris Johnson, who is way in the lead on this.
But look, these campaigns can be unpredictable. Andrea Leadsom has handled herself very well while she was in cabinet (INAUDIBLE). She has had no time to build up her run. She's the only other person who stood last time.
SOARES: She resigned yesterday, of course.
NIBLETT: Exactly, so she's put herself a little bit in the space for this Penny Mordant I don't think has quite as much time to define her personality. But there are some strong women who are credible Brexit candidates.
The thing about Boris Johnson, either he'll create a wave that will go with his language, will be right or he'll communicate that element of personal excess that people will go, hold on, as long as we have a real Brexiteer, maybe we don't want to take the risk of somebody that Europe hates. Remember, this person has to do --
SOARES: That was going be my next question. We know Europe and Juncker got on very well with Theresa May.
How will that relationship with Europe be because they're already saying, look, we've made our lines very clear. We've told you we're not budging on anything.
What can he achieve that Theresa May couldn't?
NIBLETT: Half of it is do you believe whoever the next --
NIBLETT: -- prime minister will be, who will not only negotiate the withdrawal part right but will have tough in a future relationship. The trust was lost in Theresa May because they felt that she had given the store away on the future relationship --
NIBLETT: -- and it was baked into the deal through the famous Irish backstop. So whoever it is, a Brexiteer, has to weaken that backstop a bit. Otherwise, I don't think they can unite the Democratic Unionist Party and the 28 or so really hard Brexiteers around them.
And without that, they won't be able to squeak it through Parliament. So they're going to have to demand something from the E.U. that I don't personally think the E.U. will give them. (INAUDIBLE) Let's let it happen --
SOARES: Do you think it's inevitable?
NIBLETT: I don't think it's inevitable, nothing is. If I put my money down, it would be on a general election before October 31st and the E.U. 27, this is giving an extension for a general election to happen.
SOARES: Do you think the Conservatives have a chance?
NIBLETT: They will certainly believe they have a chance. I think this is where the European parliamentary elections become very interesting.
What does the Brexit Party do or not do?
Does the Brexit Party decide to stand in the general election as well, which they would do because they see themselves as the guardians --
NIBLETT: -- of delivering Brexit in the end. That pulls the Conservative Party even further to the hard, well, we'll leave with no deal.
NIBLETT: But that immobilizes the folks on the other side in the other direction. The Labour Party is divided over everything except and even a bit on Brexit. But they will be able to disguise those divisions if the whole thing is about the type of Brexit.
NIBLETT: So I think Labour will do better in a general election --
NIBLETT: I think he will do better than people expect if they're up against a hard Brexiteer.
SOARES: (INAUDIBLE) fireworks in Europe and fireworks here behind us in Parliament. Thank you very much, Robin Niblett.
The leader of the Scottish National Party has expressed relief at the prime minister's departure. Nicola Sturgeon says she had profound disagreements with Ms. May on her handling of Brexit and her disregard for Scotland's interests. But she acknowledged that leadership is tough and thanked her for her service to the country.
Now a new leader must be chosen, of course, and here is a look at how Theresa May's successor is likely to be chosen. The Conservative members of Parliament must be nominated by two fellow members.
If more than two people are nominated, there will be a number of votes until they select their top two choices. The entire party, around 124,000 members, vote in a postal ballot to make the final decision on who will lead. And that, I'm guessing, will take some time.
Phil Black is outside 10 Downing Street.
Phil, how soon do you think we can find out who the next prime minister will take?
How long will the process of doing that take?
BLACK: So according to the Conservative Party, we're talking about having a new Conservative leader and a new prime minister by late July, just before Parliament goes on its summer break. So to break that down, what they're hoping is that there will a
deadline on nominations around June 10th or the week beginning that date. And from there, a series of votes by Conservative MPs to whittle that field down to the final two which they hope will be finished by the end of June.
And then it's thrown out to the Conservative Party membership. The final two standing candidates will get to crisscross the country, campaign, meet Conservative Party members and try to convince them that they should be the Tory leader and the next prime minister.
And the party says it is deeply conscious of the fact that this contest is not just to choose a new Conservative leader. It is to choose the next prime minister of the whole country, for all British people.
So they actually say, in that context, they expect that campaigning element out in the field, if you like, to include these candidates meeting not just with Conservative Party members but other people, who may not be traditional Conservative voters as well.
Phil Black there, thank you very much, Phil.
A very boisterous crowd behind me as you would expect. I have a message here from the French president Emmanuel Macron, who basically said Theresa May (INAUDIBLE) courageous efforts to implement Brexit (INAUDIBLE) to her European partners.
We'll have much more after a very short break. You are watching CNN.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.
SOARES: I'm Isa Soares outside the Houses of Parliament in London. Welcome back to our breaking news coverage. Theresa May announced she will resign as prime minister and Conservative leader on June 7th.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAY: I have done everything I can to convince MPs to back that deal. Sadly, I have not been able to do so. I tried three times. I believe it was right to persevere, even when the odds against success seemed high.
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. So I am today announcing that I will resign as leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party on Friday 7 June so that a successor can be chosen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES: While Ms. May's resignation will trip the trigger of a Conservative Party leader election and the winner of that will be the next prime minister roughly in mid-July.
Political analyst Carole Walker joins me now.
We're looking at mid-July, does that give us much time with the deadline from Europe in October to get anything done, sort Brexit out by then?
WALKER: Well, remember, the last time the extension was granted by the E.U., we heard those comments from Donald Tusk, saying, do not waste this time.
In the weeks since then, precious little has happened. There has been effectively paralysis, as the prime minister tried to find a new solution. It is going to be tight. But I think what is clear is that whoever does emerge as the next leader of the Conservative Party and prime minister is going to have a very different approach to that of Theresa May. It is clear that the Conservative Party will want somebody who is a Brexiteer.
SOARES: If we go with either Dominic Raab or Boris Johnson, how do you think they will handle Europe?
WALKER: I think it will be a very difficult and a very challenging task for whoever does it because finding something which gets agreement here in Parliament as well as can be can agreed with the European Union --
SOARES: -- they're very divided.
WALKER: -- absolutely. It will be very difficult. Theresa May tried to keep all sides on board and managed to annoy both sides of the argument. If you have somebody like Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab, I think what they will say -- and they will want to keep --
WALKER: -- their objectives as vague as possible --
WALKER: -- but they will say, look, I'm going to go back to the E.U. I'm going to renegotiate things like this backstop, which was intended to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland but which many Conservatives felt would leave the U.K. trapped into too many E.U. rules.
So I think a fresh leader will say they will try to go back and renegotiate. Whether they are able to get the changes they would like is highly doubtful.
WALKER: And I think that those supporters of that kind of leader would expect them to say, right, let's make preparations to leave without a deal and we'll sort out the future trade relationship from outside and, in the meantime, perhaps we'll try to get an agreement on things like citizens' rights, on things like safety rules to keep planes flying, on rules about sharing important intelligence and so on.
So I think that will be the immediate scenario. I think the difficulty will be any Tory leader that tried to take the U.K. out of the E.U. without a deal will run into a huge amount of opposition here in Parliament.
SOARES: How will Boris Johnson differentiate himself from Dominic Raab?
WALKER: I think he will try to be more of what's called a one-nation Conservative. He will try to say that he is the sort of person who can heal the wounds in the Conservative Party, heal the wounds in the country and make it clear that he is prepared to reach out to all sides in this argument.
SOARES: Carole Walker, thank you very much.
It is the end of the leadership line for Theresa May. And coming up, we'll show you a look at her legacy, really dominated by the bitter Brexit divorce. You are watching CNN.
SOARES: Now Theresa May was persistent. And she held on to power longer than many, in fact, predicted. Phil Black looks back on her career and leadership.
MAY: So I am today announcing that I will resign as leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party on Friday, the 7th of June, so that a successor can be chosen.
BLACK (voice-over): A moment so often predicted had finally come. Theresa May acknowledged she must step down.
MAY: We will lead --
BLACK (voice-over): It marks the end of a prime minister notable for defiantly holding onto power, notorious for embracing short, repetitive slogans.
MAY: The strong and stable leadership -- -- strong and stable leadership --
-- the strong and stable leadership --
-- and the strong and stable government.
BLACK (voice-over): Both marked and grudgingly admired for displaying a baffling willingness to dance terribly in public.
The self-styled dancing queen of British politics is leaving the stage. Theresa May rose to become prime minister after her predecessor, David Cameron, found himself on the wrong side of the Brexit referendum result.
DAVID CAMERON, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction.
BLACK (voice-over): May, too, had wanted Britain to remain in the European Union but promised to deliver the people's verdict.
MAY: Brexit means Brexit and we are going to make a success of it.
BLACK (voice-over): But what followed were stumbles and mistakes, none bigger than May's decision to call an unnecessary election in 2017. The result was disastrous. May lost her party's parliamentary majority.
Suddenly everything, especially Brexit, became much harder. The Conservative Party kept to its leader because there was no obvious alternative and a contrite May was determined to carry on.
MAY: I hold my hands up for that. I take responsibility. I led the campaign and I am sorry.
BLACK (voice-over): But it was during that same speech that things began --
BLACK (voice-over): -- to fall apart, literally.
After being interrupted by a protester and struggling through a coughing fit, the letters behind her started to drop off one by one. At the time, many saw it as a powerful metaphor for her struggling leadership.
May clung on by promising all sides she could deliver a Brexit that would somehow keep everyone happy. But her tactical contradictions were exposed in a crunch cabinet meeting at the prime minister's country residence, Chequers.
There she tried muscling senior ministers into backing her preferred Brexit plan. But two of her government's most prominent, hardline Brexiteers announced they couldn't stomach it and resigned. Among them was Boris Johnson, who quit as foreign secretary, embracing a new role as the prime minister's chief critic on all things Brexit. BORIS JOHNSON, FORMER BRITISH FOREIGN MINISTER: Self-governing Britain that is generally open to the world, not the miserable permanent limbo of Chequers.
BLACK (voice-over): May also had to deal with difficult Brexit advice from America's president, who even backed Johnson as a potential successor.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Boris Johnson, I think, would be a great prime minister.
BLACK (voice-over): Still May persisted, as key deadlines in the Brexit negotiations loomed.
MAY: 95 percent of withdrawal agreement, as I said, has been agreed.
BLACK (voice-over): But the stickiest issue in the divorce settlement never changed, guaranteeing the Irish border stays open while also ensuring the U.K.'s sovereignty over its own territory. Ultimately, May's attempts to sell this and other Brexit puzzles failed to earn necessary support in order to pass an agreement with the E.U.
JEREMY CORBYN, LEADER, U.K. LABOUR PARTY: After two big rejections by the House, she must have noticed there isn't much support for the deal that she negotiated.
BLACK (voice-over): Brexit has forced out two Conservative prime ministers; someone else must now try to steer the country through the most important and divisive political challenge in recent British history.
MAY: I will shortly leave the job that it has been the honor of my life to hold -- the second female prime minister but certainly not the last. I do so with no ill will but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love.
BLACK (voice-over): Phil Black, CNN, London.
SOARES: A very emotional Theresa May there.
So Theresa May is now in her final weeks as prime minister. She will resign as Conservative leader on June 7th. Ms. May's resignation will trigger a Conservative Party leadership election and the winner of that will be Britain's next prime minister.
And just in the last few minutes, we heard from Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit Party, who said, "It's difficult not to feel for Ms. May but politically she must judge the mood of the country and her party. Two Tory leaders have now gone, whose instincts were pro-E.U. Either the party learns the lesson or it dies."
We will bring you more reaction about 15 minutes or so from now. Do stay right here on CNN. I'm Isa Soares, live from Abingdon Green. Stay here with us. More news continues. [08:45:00]