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Theresa May bows out as Tory leader with by-election defeat

The Independent logo The Independent 06/06/2019 Andrew Woodcock
Theresa May wearing a white shirt and red hair looking at the camera © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

Theresa May is poised to bow out as Conservative leader with a by-election defeat to crown a record of failure in office.

The Tories are expected to fall well short in their efforts to regain the constituency of Peterborough, with the Brexit Party apparently set for a sensational triumph as polls closed.

Victory for Nigel Farage’s insurgent anti-EU party, just a few weeks after its establishment, would set the seal on a disastrous period in power for a prime minister who was forced out by her own troops amid electoral debacle and an inability to deliver Brexit.

Video: Theresa May tears up during resignation speech

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Having entered office on 13 July 2016 with a promise to take Britain out of the European Union (EU) and tackle “burning injustices” in UK society, Ms May found her premiership bogged down in Brexit negotiations and failed in three attempts to get her eventual deal through parliament.

She had secured the Tory leadership two days earlier by default, after her only remaining rival Andrea Leadsom dropped out of the contest.

But she lost her majority in a disastrous general election, held at a time of her own choosing in 2017, and became the only PM to have her government found in contempt of parliament.

Gallery: Who are the candidates to replace Theresa May? (Deutsche Welle)

Tellingly, Ms May’s formal removal as Tory leader was not being marked by any ceremony or fanfare.

Having returned from commemorations of the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, the PM was spending her last day as leader in her Maidenhead constituency.

From there, she will send a formal resignation letter to the acting co-chairs of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, Charles Walker and Dame Cheryl Gillan. The letter, and their reply, are not expected to be published.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt arrives in Downing Street, London, September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay © Thomson Reuters Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt arrives in Downing Street, London, September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Ms May will remain as acting Tory leader and stay in 10 Downing Street as prime minister until her successor – probably Boris Johnson, or one of his closest rivals Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove or Dominic Raab – is elected by Conservative members towards the end of July.

The length of the leadership contest will allow her to leapfrog Neville Chamberlain to become the UK’s 33rd longest-serving PM, having outlasted Gordon Brown last month.

The result of the Peterborough by-election was not known at time of writing, but the Brexit Party’s Mike Greene was bookies’ favourite with odds as short as 1/7. Both Mr Greene’s party and Labour insisted that the result would be closer than that, with each forecasting a neck-and-neck finish in order to encourage supporters to go to the polls.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove arrives at his office in Westminster, London. (Photo by Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images) © PA Wire/PA Images Environment Secretary Michael Gove arrives at his office in Westminster, London. (Photo by Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images)

But there was no expectation in the Conservative camp of their candidate Paul Bristow regaining a seat which was Tory as recently as 2015, and had regularly changed hands with Labour over the course of the last century.

Forced by the removal of Fiona Onasanya in a recall petition following her conviction for lying about a speeding offence, the by-election took place against a backdrop of Tories lagging below 20 per cent in national opinion polls and picking up a woeful 9 per cent in last month’s European elections.

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