By Matthew Tempest
(EurActiv) — Theresa May was Monday set to become the next British prime minister within the next 48 hours, as her only rival dropped out of the race.
It leaves the crux question of when she triggers Article 50, giving the UK two-year legal notice to leave the EU, hanging, as previously a new prime minister was not expected until September.
To add more fuel to the fire, May now come under heavy pressure to hold a general election, legitimising her place as prime minister, since she was neither elected by the public, nor even the Conservative party.
May has previously stated that Article 50 should not be triggered until 2017, and the UK negotiating position established.
However, that position has now been thrown into turmoil by the exit of Andrea Leadsom as her challenger to be Conservative Party leader and prime minister.
Later on Monday afternoon, Cameron appeared before reporters in Downing Street to announced that he would appear at his final Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons on Wednesday, before heading to Buckingham Palace, to officially resign to the Queen.
May will then become prime minister on Wednesday evening.
That rapidly contracts the timescale a new British prime minister has to work with.
More questions than answers
Cameron, after announcing he was stepping down in the wake of the shock 52-48% referendum vote to leave on 23 June, secured the agreement of the other 27 EU leaders to await the new PM to trigger Article 50.
That was expected to be in the autumn, giving the UK government time to plot a position over the summer.
During the EU summit at the end of June, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told a press conference that the next British prime minister would have “one day” to trigger Article 50, whilst a Remain-supporting PM would have “two weeks.”
It is unclear if he was serious, of if that was the official policy of the Commission.
In one of the first official reactions from the EU, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, president of the Eurogroup, said: “We look forward to working with whoever comes out of this democratic process and we will have to find solutions for Brexit which has been causing a lot of problems particularly for the UK, but also for Europe.
“The sooner we can sort out this, let me put it diplomatically, problematic situation, the better.”
May supported the Remain camp, but has since stated that “Brexit means Brexit.”
Prior to today’s development, May had stated: “…there should be no decision to invoke Article 50 until the British negotiating strategy is agreed and clear.
“Which means Article 50 should not be invoked before the end of this year.”
In other remarks, May has stated: “There will be no attempts to remain inside the EU, there will be no attempts to rejoin it by the back door, no second referendum.
“I will make sure that we leave the European Union,” said May.
Boris Johnson, after withdrawing the from the contest, then backing Leadsom, has now backed May, whilst UKIP leader Nigel Farage has declared he was “disappointed” Leadsom had abandoned the race.
Meanwhile, in a sign of the continued shockwaves of the referendum vote, the opposition Labour party was also engaged in a leadership race on Monday, as Angela Eagle formally announced she would challenge Jeremy Corbyn – just 10 months after Corbyn was elected.
Corbyn has the support of hundreds of thousands of party members, but not of two-thirds of his fellow MPs.
Leadsom announced her stepping down at lunchtime, just four days after a ballot reduced the field to her and May.
She said a lengthy leadership race would be “highly undesirable”. However, her campaign had been rocked over the weekend after she claimed she would make a better prime minister than May, since she has children and May does not.
Despite accusing The Times of “gutter journalism”, the newspaper produced an audio and written transcript proving this was exactly what she stated.