LONDON — Right-wing firebrand and populist politician Nigel Farage resigned as leader of his U.K. Independence Party on Monday, the latest political bombshell to hit Britain as it grapples with the fallout from last month’s vote to leave the European Union.
His resignation came as Conservative members of Parliament launched their own process to choose a new party leader and prime minister Monday night, holding a closed-door meeting for the top five candidates.
Prime Minister David Cameron, the current Conservative Party leader, announced his resignation the morning after the June 23 vote, having backed the campaign for Britain to remain a member of the European Union. His resignation threw the party into disarray.
Now, nearly all the leaders of the movement to leave the E.U. have also either stepped back from high-level politics or have been sidelined in the post-referendum political wars.
The decision by British voters to leave the 28-member bloc, built through a series of treaties after World War II, shocked nations around the globe and plunged the country into political and economic uncertainty.
“I have never wanted to be a career politician. That is why I now feel that I’ve done my bit,” Farage — who, as a virulent opponent of immigration, helped spearhead the campaign to leave the E.U. — said Monday in a televised news conference.
“I understand that not everybody in this country is happy,” he said. But “I want my life back, and it begins now.”
In London on Monday, Conservative members of Parliament met at the Palace of Westminster as the chaotic race for party leader narrowed to three potential front-runners: Home Secretary Theresa May, Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom and Justice Minister Michael Gove. The first round of party voting is scheduled for Tuesday.
Leadsom officially announced her intention to run for the party leadership earlier Monday, and she emphasized limiting free movement and strengthening the economy. Since the June 23 vote, the British pound has fallen about 10 percent against the U.S. dollar, and economists have warned of a global recession if the tumult continues.
“Business needs certainty,” Leadsom said Monday. “I will prioritize new trade deals with the fastest-growing parts of the world.”
“The United Kingdom will leave the European Union,” she added. “Freedom of movement will end.”
Gove, who was one of the lead campaigners of the “leave” movement, lost his edge as front-runner over the weekend, after back-stabbing his erstwhile ally and the onetime favorite for the premiership, former London mayor Boris Johnson.
In a stunning act of political treachery, Gove preemptively declared his own candidacy for party leader and announced that he did not believe that Johnson was fit to be prime minister. The move by Gove, a Conservative politician, shocked Britain and drew comparisons to a Shakespearean-style betrayal or an episode of the political drama “House of Cards.”
May has since risen with support from about 100 lawmakers, according to the ConservativeHome website, which has close ties to the Conservative Party. May campaigned for Britain to remain in the European Union, but she has presented herself as a unifying figure within the party — and has promised to reform the bloc’s rules of freedom of movement. She has stopped short, however, of promising a full halt to migration to Britain.
Much of the “leave” campaign, popularly known as Brexit, focused on calls for stricter border controls and full withdrawal of Britain from Europe’s common market.
In his resignation speech Monday, Farage called the E.U.’s single market — which regards the bloc as one territory without regulations on goods and services — a “big business protectionist cartel.”
“We need a new prime minister that puts down some pretty clear lines — that we’re not going to give in on issues like free movement,” he said.
“We are now in charge of our own future, and I want us to grab this opportunity with both hands,” he added.
Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, told the Financial Times on Monday that he planned to cut the country’s corporate tax rate to just 15 percent — the lowest of any major economy.