LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron said he would officially resign by Wednesday as Home Minister Theresa May appeared set to take over the reins.
Cameron announced he would resign by October after the June 23 referendum, in which the country voted to pull out of the European Union.
But he said he would officially step down by Wednesday evening after May became the sole candidate left in the race to take over.
The only other remaining contender, Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom, quit the race on Monday.
It is the latest twist in Britain’s political saga that ensued with June’s “Brexit” vote to leave the European Union.
The country is entering uncharted territory — it is unprecedented for a candidate in Britain to run unopposed at this stage of a leadership change, and it is raising questions about the whole process. How can a leader be democratically chosen by so few people?
Some 329 Conservative members of Parliament voted to whittle down five candidates to two for their party’s leadership, and the final say was supposed to be up to the wider party of around 150,000 people.
In Britain’s parliamentary system, the leader of the ruling party is automatically made prime minister.
May has not been officially confirmed as prime minister, but it looks likely she will by, and that even the wider party will be left out, having no say in it at all. Some analysts said she could be in office as early as this week.
“There is an absurdity in the system that a prime minister can be chosen by people who are supporters of one party when it is in government,” political contributor Robin Oakley said.
“There will undoubtedly be some frustration in the public, but there’s nothing much that can be done. There was a reasonable process in place, but if the last contender doesn’t have the stomach for a fight, this is how things will be decided.”
Some complained on Twitter that the process was undemocratic, demanding a general election.
Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, also tweeted his objections.
“The Tories now have no mandate. Britain deserves better than this,” he said.
Councilor Usman Ahmed of the opposition Labour Party also called the system undemocratic.
But the Labour Party is suffering a leadership earthquake of its own. Angela Eagle, a senior member of Parliament, officially launched a challenge to leader Jeremy Corbyn on Monday.
Corbyn became party leader after Labor lost the last election. He is adored by masses in the party, having brought tens of thousands new members from the left to a party accused of being too centrist.
For the same reason, he has struggled to bring his members of Parliament together, the majority seeing him as unrealistic and unelectable.
May says no snap election
May has made it clear that she would not call an early election should she win the prime minister’s post.
But many will be happy if May is installed quickly — the wider party vote would have taken place Sept. 9, and the uncertainty over Britain’s leadership has contributed to the economic turmoil.
Leadsom, the energy minister, conceded Monday she would have struggled to unite the party had she been elected.
“Theresa May carries over 60 percent of support from the party. She is ideally placed to implement Brexit and has promised to do so. I have concluded that the interests of our country are best served by the implementation of a strong leader,” Leadsom said.
“I am therefore withdrawing from the leadership election,” she said, adding that she gave May her “full support.”
Leadsom’s withdrawal from the race came in the face of pressure from a faction of lawmakers in the warring Conservative Party.
The energy minister has drawn fierce criticism in the past week, accused of exaggerating her professional experience and asserting she could run the country better than May because she is a mother.
Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation after last month’s referendum to leave the EU, having failed to persuade the British people to remain.
The next prime minister faces the daunting job of negotiating a deal with an angered EU, one that does not cripple the British economy and keeps the country on friendly terms with neighbors.
May, often described as “a safe pair of hands” to take the UK through its negotiations, made a speech Monday, brimming with confidence that she would become the country’s next leader and follow through with the EU withdrawal.
“Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it. There will be no attempts to remain inside the EU. No attempts to rejoin it by the back door. No second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union, and as prime minister, I will make sure we leave the European Union,” she said.
May, who had a reputation as a serious-minded workaholic, was “the nearest thing you could find in British politics today to Margaret Thatcher,” Oakley said.
One of the longest-serving home secretaries in British history, May backed remaining in the EU, though she is known to hold Euroskeptic views and didn’t take a prominent role in the campaign.
Leadsom was a strong advocate of leaving the EU, marking quite a turnaround for the politician, who three years ago said it would be a “disaster” for the UK to leave the union.
She defended that stance, saying that she had been on a “journey” since and had changed her mind.
Leadsom set out her post-Brexit vision ahead of the vote in a speech peppered with a strong sense of patriotism.
“I truly believe we can be the greatest nation on Earth,” she said, promising “prosperity,” not “austerity.”