It began with promise and ended in tears: An emotional Theresa May finally announced the end of her short but tumultuous tenure as the UK’s prime minister on Friday, her voice quivering as she spoke.
May’s three-year term saw a disastrous general election, two no confidence motions, a series of torturous negotiations with the EU and a handful of geopolitical crises.
But while her failure to deliver Brexit is certain to define her legacy, she’ll be remembered for far more besides.
The honeymoon: May was swept into power after a condensed leadership contest, profiting from David Cameron’s resignation in the wake of the Brexit vote. Riding high in opinion polls throughout a lengthy honeymoon period, May promised to secure a positive Brexit deal from the European Union — but threatened to walk away from discussions if she couldn’t get one.
Cozying up to Trump: A few months into her tenure, May became the first major world leader to visit the new US President in January 2017. But her visit was dominated in the British media by an unfortunate photograph of her walking hand-in-hand with the President, who is unpopular in the UK.
Humiliation at the polls: The turning point of May’s premiership was a catastrophic snap general election in June 2017. Hoping to capitalize on her lead in opinion polls, May’s gamble wiped away her parliamentary majority and irreparably damaged her authority.
A woeful campaign, which saw a U-turn over a so-called dementia tax, a damaging refusal to take part in TV debates, and a series of uninspiring slogans including the quickly meme-ified “strong and stable,” allowed Jeremy Corbyn to upset the odds and force May into a minority government propped up by the DUP. She shed “a little tear” on election night, she later told the BBC.
Response to Grenfell: Days after May’s embarrassment at the ballot box, people around the country watched in horror as Grenfell Tower in west London was engulfed in flames. To many, the disaster in one of Britain’s richest boroughs highlighted economic inequalities that had been central to the campaign — and when May was severely criticized for not meeting with survivors in the wake of the fire, it seemed her new term could be over within days.
Two contrasting conference speeches: May survived the ensuing months, but her position remained fragile when she took to the stage at the Conservative Party conference in 2017. That speech was billed as the biggest of her career — but a crippling cough, a protester handing her a P45 form, and a set that fell apart behind her back combined to turn the event into a comedy of errors.
A year later, in late 2018, May returned to the stage with a flourish. Making light of her widely-mocked dance moves, she strutted out to Abba’s classic “Dancing Queen” before delivering a strong speech. May rarely seemed to be having the time of her life as prime minister, but her musical entrance won a few doubters over.
Salisbury poisoning: The prime minister won plaudits for her response to the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in 2018. While opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn wavered over blaming Russia, May coordinated an unequivocal response that had the backing of international partners including the US.
…and, of course, Brexit: Ultimately, however, May’s premiership will be associated with Brexit. Her unpopular pact with the EU, unveiled at a fiery cabinet away day at her Chequers country home, signaled the beginning of the end of her tenure, prompting a rash of resignations from her front bench and leading to three historically crushing defeats in Parliament.
On Friday, the Dancing Queen confirmed the inevitable — and accepted she had met her Waterloo.