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May delivers parting shots on last day as British prime minister

By KARLA ADAM AND WILLIAM BOOTH | The Washington Post | Published: July 24, 2019

LONDON - On Theresa May's final day as British Prime Minister, she cemented her reputation as someone deeply loyal to her party, even though it effectively kicked her out, and she sought to inspire future female leaders, even if she didn't have much to show for her time in the top job.

The transition of power happens quickly in Britain. May was prime minister until she went to Buckingham Palace on Wednesday afternoon and tendered her resignation to the queen. Within the hour, Boris Johnson had succeeded her.
May's last showpiece event was Prime Minister's Questions in Parliament - the weekly question-and-answer session widely called PMQs. 

May was by turns reflective and combative. Her voice cracked with emotion when she talked about serving her local constituents. She also let it rip when sparring with opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. 

Many lawmakers thanked May for her term and her 33 years in public service. The harshest lines were reserved for Johnson, whom opposition rivals called "flagrant" and "reckless," a usurper with no mandate, and someone who is prepared to "sell our country out to Donald Trump and his friends."

May offered tepid support for her successor, long a thorn in her side. She said she was "pleased" to hand over to Johnson, whom "I worked with when he was in my cabinet," and who is committed to delivering Brexit. Johnson notably quit May's cabinet over her handling of Brexit.

Corbyn laid into her - saying that since she began top job, child poverty was up, pensioner poverty was up, school class size was up, food bank use was up. May retorted that she was proud of her record. She then lowered her head, eyeballed Corbyn and poked him with her horns: "As a party leader who has accepted when her time was up, perhaps the time is now for him to do the same."

Jo Swinson, the new leader of the ascendant Liberal Democrats party, asked May if she had any advice for "women across the country on how to deal with those men who think they could do a better job but are not prepared to do the actual work."

May smiled but didn't take the bait - if that's what it was - to make any references to Johnson. 

Instead, she offered: "My advice to all women is actually to be true to yourself, persevere and keep going."

Harriet Harman, the longest-serving female member of the House, honored May as Britain's second female prime minister. But she added a sly reference to May's rocky relationship with President Trump: "Sometimes you just have to be a bit more careful when a man wants to hold your hand."

May came to power in the summer of 2016, shortly after the EU referendum. She was considered to be the grown-up in the room and quickly became known for her grit and determination. But she wasn't an agile or imaginative politician.

She announced she would step down after failing - repeatedly - to deliver Brexit. 

Though she had a relatively short tenure for a British prime minister, she noted she had answered more than 4,500 questions over the course of 140 hours in the House of Commons. That was, she said, "more than I might have expected."

May now will return to the backbenches of Parliament as an ordinary and not very influential lawmaker. Continuing on in this way is something many former prime ministers do, although for varying lengths of time. May's predecessor, David Cameron, resigned as a member of Parliament two months after he left Downing Street. Gordon Brown stayed on as a member of Parliament for five years after he stepped down from the top role.

Before heading to Buckingham Palace for her audience with the queen, May stood for a last time at the lectern in front of 10 Downing Street, the office and residence of the British prime minister.

In brief remarks, with her husband, Philip, standing by her side, May said that she hopes that because of her, young girls will be inspired to think there is nothing they cannot achieve.

"This is a country of aspiration and opportunity," said May. "And I hope that every young girl who has seen a woman prime minister now knows for sure that there are no limits to what they can achieve."

She also wished Johnson and his team good fortune.

"Their successes will be our successes," May said.

In the background, Steve Bray, the constant anti-Brexit protester who is fixture outside Westminster, shouted,"Stop Brexit!"

May looked up and said, "I think not."
 

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