May: the UK PM who fell victim to Brexit

British Prime Minister Theresa May's tenure will likely be defined by her handling of Brexit.
British Prime Minister Theresa May's tenure will likely be defined by her handling of Brexit.

Brexit has claimed the tenure of the United Kingdom's Theresa May, who on Friday announced she would resign without completing her flagship mission as prime minister to successfully bring the country out of the European Union.

"It is and will always remain a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit," May said as she announced she would stand down as leader of the Conservative Party on Friday June 7 in a speech outside her official Downing Street residence in London during which she was visibly emotional.

May threw in the towel under mounting party pressure for her to resign over her handling - or mishandling - of Brexit, which she has doggedly pursued against parliamentary odds since taking over as Tory leader.

Landing that elusive parliamentary majority for her withdrawal deal, which was struck up with Brussels over two years, has been her sole objective in recent months.

The House of Commons, the UK's lower chamber of lawmaking, rejected the 585-page bill, three times, the first time by 432 votes against, the heaviest defeat for a sitting prime minister in modern history.

This failure prompted the opposition Labour party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, to table a motion of no confidence against May's government in January. The Conservative leader survived it by 19 votes.

Before that, May dodged another no-confidence motion, this time lodged by backbench members of her own party, which she survived by 85 votes.

Battered and bruised by the confidence motions, incessant criticism and rebellion in her own party and ebbing public opinion eroded her political image.

Born in Eastbourne in the south of England on October 1, 1956, May is the daughter of an Anglican vicar and grew up to be a studious child and would eventually read Geography at the University of Oxford.

While at Oxford, she was introduced to her now-husband Philip May by fellow student Benazir Bhutto, the assassinated former prime minister of Pakistan. The pair married in 1980.

A fan of cricket, fashion and proud owner of over 100 cooking books, May has publicly lamented her inability to have children.

The former Home Secretary has at times been compared to the "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher for her obstinacy.

She began her political career in 1986 after a six-year spell working at the Bank of England and was elected to the House of Commons in 1997 to represent the constituency of Maidenhead.

May soon became a prominent figure in the Conservative Party and held several senior roles in the shadow government during Labour leader Tony Blair's time in office (1997-2007).

In 2010, when David Cameron was the leader of the Tories, she was appointed Home Secretary, a post she held simultaneous with minister for women and equalities.

May took over from Cameron when the latter resigned in the wake of the Brexit vote in 2016.

"Brexit means Brexit," became her choice slogan as she promised to deliver on the referendum result.

Less than one year after taking up residence at Downing Street, May called snap elections in June 2017 in a bid for a political mandate to pursue Brexit.

It was a huge miscalculation as the new Tory leader lost the government majority achieved by Cameron in 2015, forcing her to extend a hand to the Democratic Unionists of Northern Ireland as a confidence and supply party.

Since then, May oversaw the drawn-out negotiation process with Brussels. Brexit shook the party and she lost several key ministers in the process including Boris Johnson, who announced his leadership bid before May even announced her resignation, David Davis, Dominic Raab and Esther McVey.

Her party was wrenched apart by divisions on Brexit from those who backed remain, to former remain supporters who now back leave - like May herself - to staunch Brexit supporters.

Despite this, May managed to navigate through stormy waters and signed a withdrawal deal with Brussels in 2018.

Her deal never made it over the final hurdle, the House of Commons.

Australian Associated Press