LONDON: Fighting back tears, British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday (May 24) she would quit, triggering a contest that will bring a new leader to power who is likely to push for a more decisive Brexit divorce deal.
May's departure will deepen the Brexit crisis as a new leader is likely to want a more decisive split, raising the chances of a confrontation with the European Union and a potentially unpredictable snap parliamentary election.
Former foreign minister Boris Johnson, the favourite to replace May, was first out of the blocks, saying Britain should be prepared to leave the EU without a deal to force the bloc to offer a "good deal".
Current foreign minister Jeremy Hunt also confirmed he would run for the leadership.
The 62-year-old leader set out a timetable for her departure - she will resign as Conservative Party leader on Jun 7 with a leadership contest beginning the following week.
She will remain as prime minister in a caretaker role until a replacement is elected by the party before Jul 20.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said the new prime minister must hold an election to "let the people decide our country's future".
May, who took charge in the aftermath of the 2016 EU referendum, was forced to make way following a Conservative mutiny over her ill-fated strategy to take Britain out of the European Union.
She will become one of the country's shortest-serving post-WWII prime ministers, remembered for presiding over one of the most chaotic periods in its modern political history.
Her voice cracking with emotion, May, who endured crises and humiliation in her failed effort to find a compromise Brexit deal that parliament could ratify, said she bore no ill will.
"I will shortly leave the job that has been the honour of my life to hold," May said. "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," May said, with her husband, Philip, looking on.
May, once a reluctant supporter of EU membership, steps down with her central pledges - to lead the United Kingdom out of the bloc and heal its divisions - unfulfilled.
"It is, and will always remain, a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit," May said, adding that her successor would have to find a consensus to honour the 2016 referendum result.
READ: Timeline: Theresa May - three tumultuous Downing Street years
A spokeswoman for the EU Commission said May's departure changed nothing in Brexit talks.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney underlined the bloc's stance that there would be no better Brexit deal.
"This idea that a new prime minister will be a tougher negotiator and will put it up to the EU and get a much better deal for Britain? That's not how the EU works," Coveney told Ireland's Newstalk radio station.
French President Emmanuel Macron's office said he now wanted to see a "rapid clarification" over Brexit.
May's announcement "further amplifies the uncertainty around Brexit," said Sarah Carlson, an market analyst at Moody's, who added it "increases the risk of a no-deal Brexit".
PM BORIS JOHNSON?
May bequeaths a deeply divided country and a political elite that is deadlocked over how, when or whether to leave the EU.
The leading contenders to succeed May all want a tougher divorce deal, although the EU has said it will not renegotiate the Withdrawal Treaty it sealed in November.
May's departure will kickstart a Conservative Party leadership contest - already unofficially under way - that is expected to be encompass more than a dozen candidates and favour an ardent Brexiteer.
Tory MPs will hold a series of votes to whittle the contenders down to a final two that will be put to the party's more than 100,000 members.
Johnson is the membership's favourite, but numerous Conservative MPs are thought to hold serious reservations about his suitability for the top job.
He made his pitch at an economic conference in Switzerland, appealing to Brexit-supporting Conservative Party members by saying: "We will leave the EU on Oct. 31, deal or no deal".
He said Britain could forge a "fantastic free trade relationship" with Europe after it quits the bloc but could also be a champion for global free trade.
May was the surprising victor in a 2016 leadership contest to replace then prime minister David Cameron after he resigned in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum.
Despite having campaigned to stay in the EU, she embraced the cause with the mantra "Brexit means Brexit".
However the decision to hold a disastrous snap election in June 2017, when she lost her parliamentary majority, left her stymied.
Her dismally dysfunctional government saw 36 ministerial resignations - a modern record.
May will leave office without any significant achievements - other than her bungled handling of Brexit, according to political analysts.
"She doesn't really have a legacy," said Simon Usherwood, from the University of Surrey's politics department.
"I think anybody in her position would have had great difficulty."
Others were more brutal in their assessment.
"It was only an impossible job because she made it one," said Tim Bale of Queen Mary University of London.
Sterling swung back and forth on May's resignation, and British government bond yields edged off near-two-year lows struck first thing on Friday.