UK's May quits as party leader, starting succession race

The Brexit Party's Mike Greene outside a polling station in Peterborough

British Prime Minister Theresa May has formally stepped down as leader of the governing Conservatives Party, officially triggering a contest to replace her that could see her party embrace a tougher stance on Brexit.

The Brexit Party, launched in April, swept to victory in the European Parliament election in Britain last month, riding a wave of anger over outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May's failure to deliver Brexit on time.

His party suffered a setback on Friday after narrowly missing out on winning its first parliamentary seat, losing to Labour in the Peterborough by-election.

But how far is the result a sign that the traditional parties are suffering over the continuing Brexit confusion?

Mrs May will formally relinquish her leadership of the Conservative Party in a private letter to her party. She will remain as a caretaker prime minister for a few weeks while the party picks a successor.

Britain voted 52% to 48% in 2016 to leave the European Union, and the 27 other nations finally agreed late previous year to a detailed withdrawal plan with May's government. Any candidates who don't get at least 5% have to drop out.

May, 62, has seen her three years atop party and country defined, and ultimately destroyed, by Brexit.

But despite winning, Labour's vote share fell by 17 percent while the Conservatives' vote plummeted by 25 percent, highlighting the task facing May's successor.

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But in one humiliation after another for May, the plan has been rejected three times by Parliament, doomed by both lawmakers who wanted more of a clean break and those who wanted a softer Brexit that kept close economic ties to the bloc.

Labour MP Jess Phillips said she could not celebrate the result, tweeting: 'The reality is I cannot be gleeful or proud as I'd want to be because of how it shows that anti-Semitism is becoming normal in the party'.

The final two candidates will meet in a runoff that will be decided by mail by the country's 160,000 Conservative Party members. He said Britain was "on course to leave by October 31", but he'd be willing to agree to a further delay if needed to finalise a deal.

It comes as a new poll, on behalf of pro-EU groups Best for Britain and Hope not Hate, suggested Labour could lose all its Scottish MPs if they fail to back another vote.

Other leading contenders include the current foreign minister, Jeremy Hunt, and environment minister Michael Gove, who take a less hardline stance on Brexit.

The EU has also completed its no-deal preparations, and while many in Brussels hope Britain's Parliament would prevent the country crashing out of the bloc, most are reluctantly resigned to the possibility that it could happen.

Whatever the leadership candidates promise, the future may be beyond their control. And Parliament has repeatedly voted to rule out leaving without a deal, though it's not clear how lawmakers could stop a prime minister who was determined to do it. Johnson, a leading campaigner in the 2016 referendum who quit the government past year over May's plan, is among several would-be candidates who say they are willing to do this.

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