Theresa May will stand down as Britain’s prime minister next month but she is not giving up. With three weeks left before she hands over to someone else, the premier is busier than ever trying to build an ambitious legacy.
May flew to Japan for the Group of 20 summit this week, where she tried to persuade Vladimir Putin to stop destabilizing the world and Donald Trump to tackle climate change.
She also hinted she won’t be a silent passenger when she rejoins the Conservative Party’s lower ranks. When it comes to Brexit, May has warned she will not meekly follow orders from Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt — the two contenders to replace her — if they try to take Britain out of the European Union with no deal.
“Look, government is continuing,” May told reporters on her trip to Japan when challenged to justify committing money to legacy projects. “I’ve still got work to do as prime minister until I handover to my successor.”
May said her commitment to reducing U.K. greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” was a good example of the work that she needs to do. Other initiatives she has championed recently include efforts to boost housing, reforming marriage rules, and changing how overseas aid is spent.
But her hyper-activity also suggests she knows her time is running out — and is perhaps a psychological rebound from the shock of losing the job she loved.
May was pushed to quit as leader of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party last month after failing three times to get her Brexit deal through Parliament. In an emotional statement outside her 10 Downing Street offices, May announced she was reluctantly resigning and the country will need a new prime minister.
She broke down at the end of that speech, as she walked back in through the famous black door of Number 10. Her officials watching were also distraught and the wounds are still sore.
May and her allies are painfully conscious of their defeat and failure to leave the country in a better state than she found it, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The flood of announcements and diplomatic moves shows a glimpse of what May wanted to have achieved if she hadn’t been focused on her ultimately doomed efforts to deliver Brexit, the person said.
Asked when she knew her time was over, May said she tried everything she could think of to get her Brexit deal through a vote in the House of Commons, including offering to resign earlier than planned. “Sadly, even that did not bring the votes for it,” she said.
Her impatient party wanted her gone immediately, so she resigned. An internal Tory party election to choose a replacement is now under way, with Johnson and Hunt, the foreign secretary, competing for the top job.
Not Going Anywhere
May will stay on working for her constituents in the district she has represented since 1997 — and could even stay on to fight the next general election in 2022.
“I’m certainly going to be continuing as the MP for Maidenhead — I’m going to stay in Parliament and play my role by my own constituents,” May said. “I’m expecting the next election will be in 2022 and I haven’t ruled out standing in that next election.”