U.K.'s Theresa May Resigns Acknowledging Failure To Deliver Brexit Theresa May's term as prime minister has been one misstep after another, starting with calling an early election that left her weakened and without support to negotiate the U.K.'s exit from the E.U.
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U.K.'s Theresa May Resigns Acknowledging Failure To Deliver Brexit

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U.K.'s Theresa May Resigns Acknowledging Failure To Deliver Brexit

U.K.'s Theresa May Resigns Acknowledging Failure To Deliver Brexit

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May's resignation was long in coming.

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PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: It is and will always remain a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit.

CORNISH: Frank Langfitt, NPR's London correspondent, looks back on her fraught tenure.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Theresa May thought she was the right person at the right moment. It was the summer of 2016. British voters had stunned the world and voted to take the U.K. out of the European Union. Then-Prime Minister David Cameron, who had called the vote for political reasons, never thinking it would actually pass, resigned.

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DAVID CAMERON: I will do everything I can as prime minister to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months, but I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination.

LANGFITT: Boris Johnson, the former London mayor, emerged as the frontrunner to replace Cameron. But Johnson's own campaign manager publicly torpedoed his efforts, leaving May the only viable candidate left standing. Many believe running for prime minister was May's first big mistake.

NICHOLAS ALLEN: It was entirely a poisoned chalice. I mean, she was set up to fail. It would have been - the odds were always stacked against her.

LANGFITT: Nicholas Allen teaches politics at Royal Holloway, University of London.

ALLEN: No prime minister, certainly since 1945, has faced such a large set of challenges with, simultaneously, such a hugely divided, unleadable party.

LANGFITT: May had to negotiate a divorce agreement with the EU after more than four decades of integration and try to steer it through a Parliament and a Conservative Party that was deeply split between lawmakers who had voted to stay in the European Union and some hardcore Brexiteers who wanted a clean break despite the economic damage it could cause the country. Early on, May tried to strike a confident tone.

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MAY: We have the challenge of Brexit - and Brexit does mean Brexit - and we're going to make a success of it.

LANGFITT: But the next year, she made an error from which she never recovered. Determined to increase her majority in Parliament to push through a Brexit deal, she called a snap election.

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MAY: The choice at the election is clear - strong and stable leadership with me in the national interest, or a hung Parliament and coalition of chaos under Jeremy Corbyn.

LANGFITT: Nicholas Allen remembers.

ALLEN: The Conservatives looked set for a crushing majority that would have left Labour, the opposition party, virtually nowhere.

LANGFITT: But Corbyn proved formidable, and May was a dreadful campaigner, repeating talking points that won her the nickname the Maybot and inspired remixes like this.

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LANGFITT: May lost her majority leading the hung Parliament she'd warned of. Afterward, the prime minister sometimes seemed hapless. At the Conservative Party conference that fall, she suffered a coughing fit that went on and on.

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MAY: Our economy is back on track. Let this party celebrate the wealth-creators, the risk-takers.

LANGFITT: As she struggled, letters from the party's slogan fell off the wall behind her. The Conservative's message was literally and figuratively falling apart. At the party conference the following year, May joked about the debacle.

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MAY: I've been up all night super-gluing the backdrop.

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LANGFITT: In negotiations last year, the European Union pressed May to accept the U.K. remaining in a temporary customs arrangement with the EU to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. Many in Parliament saw it as a threat to British sovereignty, and the House of Commons dealt May a historic defeat.

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JOHN BERCOW: Order. The ayes to the right - 202. The noes to the left - 432.

LANGFITT: May brought the agreement back twice more, only to see it fail in what began to feel like the political equivalent of the Bill Murray comedy, "Groundhog Day." Britons began to refer to the country's political situation as an omnishambles. During yesterday's European Parliamentary elections, voters expressed a mix of sympathy and exasperation with the prime minister. Warwick Bird (ph), a former financier, put it like this.

WARWICK BIRD: I feel sorry for her in one way. But if I'd have been doing it, I would've thought, I can't carry on doing this anymore. You know, I'm just beating my head against a brick wall.

LANGFITT: May concluded a resignation speech this morning by showing a vulnerable side she'd all but hidden from British voters.

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MAY: I will shortly leave the job that it has been the honor of my life to hold - 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.

LANGFITT: Tears in her eyes, the prime minister then turned and retreated behind the door of No. 10 Downing Street. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London.

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