Theresa May. Picture: BLOOMBERG/ANDREW HARRER
Theresa May. Picture: BLOOMBERG/ANDREW HARRER

London — UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s resignation looks likely to make Britain’s looming departure from the EU even more difficult, with some suggesting a hard or no-deal Brexit is now almost inevitable.

Here are the main reactions to the announcement she will step down as leader of the Conservative Party, and hence also as prime minister, on June 7.

No change

The EU said the resignation does nothing to change its position on the Brexit withdrawal deal agreed with Britain.

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker noted that May’s decision “without personal joy”, a spokesperson said, adding that the council of EU leaders has “set out its position” on the Brexit deal.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted that he “would like to express my full respect for @theresa_may and for her determination, as Prime Minister, in working towards the #UK’s orderly withdrawal from the EU”.

‘Deliver Brexit’

One of the leading contenders to succeed May, Britain's former foreign minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “A very dignified statement from @theresa_may. Thank you for your stoical service to our country and the Conservative Party. It is now time to follow her urgings: to come together and deliver Brexit.”

‘Call an election’

Britain’s opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Friday that whoever replaces May as leader of the Conservative Party must call an election.

“She has now accepted what the country has known for months: she cannot govern, and nor can her divided and disintegrating party,” Corbyn said in a statement.

“The Conservative Party has utterly failed the country over Brexit and is unable to improve people’s lives or deal with their most pressing needs. Parliament is deadlocked and the Conservatives offer no solutions to the other major challenges facing our country.”

‘Rapid clarification’

French President Emmanuel Macron hailed May for her “courageous work” in seeking to implement Brexit in the interests of her country while showing respect for Britain’s European partners.

But the Élysée statement added: “The principles of the EU will continue to apply, with the priority on the smooth functioning of the EU, and this requires a rapid clarification. At a time of an important choice, votes of rejection that do not offer an alternative project will lead to an impasse.”

Merkel’s ‘respect’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted May’s decision “with respect”, saying they shared a “good and trusting” working relationship, according to her spokesperson.

Pledging to keep working with May in the same spirit as long as she is in office, Merkel noted that Berlin “wishes to maintain close co-operation and a close relationship with the British government”, spokesperson Martina Fietz said.

Fietz declined to comment on how the resignation could affect Brexit, as “the development depends essentially on domestic political developments in Britain”.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May was visibly emotional on May 24 2019 as she delivered the final sentences of her resignation speech outside Downing Street, London. Subscribe to TimesLIVE here: https://www.youtube.com/user/TimesLive

‘Misjudged the mood’

Anti-EU populist Nigel Farage, whose Brexit Party is leading opinion polls in Britain, blamed May for misjudging the mood of her country by trying to preserve close trade ties with the bloc.

“It is difficult not to feel for Mrs May, but politically she misjudged the mood of the country and her party. Two Tory leaders have now gone whose instincts were pro-EU,” he wrote in a tweet, referring to May and her predecessor David Cameron.

‘Very difficult period’

In Moscow, the Kremlin said that May’s premiership has been a very difficult time for Russia's relations with Britain.

“Mrs May’s stint as prime minister has come during a very difficult period in our bilateral relations,” said President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

‘Impossible to stop’

The Madrid government warned that a no-deal Brexit now appears almost inevitable.

“Under these circumstances, a hard Brexit appears to be a reality that is near impossible to stop,” Spanish government spokesperson Isabel Celaá told reporters, adding that the British government and parliament would be “solely responsible for a no-deal exit [from the EU] and its consequences”.

Brexit ‘not up for renegotiation’

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday that the EU will never re-open negotiations on the Brexit divorce deal with whoever succeeds Theresa May as British prime minister.

“The withdrawal agreement is not up for renegotiation,” Rutte told a news conference in The Hague, adding that “the problem was not Theresa May” but Britain's strict red lines for any deal.”   

Pound wobbles

On the financial markets, sterling briefly sank below $1.27 but did not reach the four-month lows that were plumbed a day earlier and was still higher compared to late Thursday, as dealers argued that the resignation news had already been priced in.

Stock markets mostly rebounded with US President Donald Trump offering an “olive branch” to China in their trade war, dealers said.

AFP, Reuters