After hanging on against months of relentless pressure, Theresa May last night announced she will step down as Britain's Prime Minister on June 7.

May cut a forlorn figure outside 10 Downing Street as she said she had "done my best" to honour the 2016 European Union referendum result. Struggling to hold back tears, she said it would remain a matter of "deep regret" that she had been unable to deliver Brexit.

Rising anger and resignations from within her Conservative Party had increased the pressure on May in recent days, but it was an uncharacteristically personal revelation in a speech that many believe spelt the end for her political career.

As she begged MPs to vote for her "new Brexit deal" on Tuesday, the candid one-liner provided a rare moment of insight from a Prime Minister renowned for keeping her cards close to her chest.

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Insisting she had "tried everything I possibly can" to deliver Brexit, she was reduced to admitting she tried to turn her unpopularity to her advantage, imploring: "I offered to give up the job I love earlier than I would like."

According to sources close to May, the desperate disclosure speaks volumes about why the 62-year-old clung on for so long in the face of unprecedented humiliation.

The Daily Telegraph spoke to a number of impeccably placed insiders to try to understand the motivation for May's dogged determination to remain in office despite the demeaning opposition she faced from her own party.

Theresa May says she'll quit as UK Conservative leader on June 7. Photo / AP
Theresa May says she'll quit as UK Conservative leader on June 7. Photo / AP

"She behaves like a masochist but the quote about how she will give up the job she loves betrayed something about her," said one. "She's much more into the status of having the job than most people would have thought about her. People think it's all about duty and public service, but she does enjoy the trappings."

Referring to the Prime Minister's country house, the source added: "She enjoys Chequers far too much. She loves hosting people there."

Another source agreed, describing how May "likes all the wining and dining and things being served on silver platters". The insider added: "It comes from a past of having been looked down on by the likes of Cameron and Osborne and the feeling that she's finally made it," referring to former Prime Minister David Cameron and fellow Tory George Osborne.

May will now have to watch her party choose a leader who will face the difficult task of breaking the Brexit impasse.

"It is now clear to me that it is in the best interests of the country for a new prime minister to lead that effort," May said yesterday.

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Among the leading candidates is Boris Johnson, the face of the official campaign to leave the EU who resigned as Foreign Secretary in July last year in protest at May's handling of the exit negotiations. Jeremy Hunt, who voted to remain in the EU and as Johnson's replacement as Foreign Secretary called for unity among Tories, is another favourite. Dominic Raab, a former Brexit Secretary, and Andrea Leadsom and Michael Gove, who were both beaten by May for the job when Cameron resigned in 2016, are also expected to be in the running.

British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after addressing a media conference at an EU summit in Brussels. Photo / AP
British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after addressing a media conference at an EU summit in Brussels. Photo / AP

Whoever takes over will be more than aware of the mistakes May made.

One of the sources the Telegraph talked to about May cited a 2017 Vogue photo shoot as an example of how out of touch May could appear. She was pictured in a £995 ($1935) pair of leather trousers. Another source called it "an opportunity to spend five hours feeling beautiful", adding: "She loved every single minute and didn't seem to care the optics were completely wrong."

May's lifelong ambition of becoming prime minister — and what one source described as "vicar's daughter syndrome" — also played a big part in her reluctance to leave No 10.

May's Oxford contemporary and closest confidante Alicia Collinson, the wife of Tory MP Damian Green, once revealed that a young Theresa Brazier declared a desire to become prime minister during their first term together at St Hugh's College in 1974.

According to a senior Tory MP who has known May for decades: "Theresa was annoyed when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister and beat her to it. This is the only place she's ever wanted to be. It's mattered more than anything else in her life."

Pointing out that May lacks the "hinterland" of other interests that most politicians have, the source added: "Her whole political life has really been about her, not her political ideas. She's never done ideas. She does ambition. Everything in her political life has been dominated by one thought — being prime minister."

The reaction from Philip May when the 2017 election was called proved just how much being in Downing Street meant to the couple, according to another source: "Philip said, 'We've just moved into the place where we've always wanted to be — we're finally here'. The idea of having to leave appeared unthinkable to them."

British Prime Minister Theresa May makes a speech in the street outside 10 Downing Street in London. Photo / AP
British Prime Minister Theresa May makes a speech in the street outside 10 Downing Street in London. Photo / AP

One source described how May's "arrogant virtuousness" had kept her going against all adversity, adding: "She has this view of herself which is that she has a morality others don't understand. It's vicar's daughter syndrome."

A former Downing Street colleague agreed: "The criticism will be like water off a duck's back.

"Because of the upbringing she's had, her father's calling coming first, she feels it comes with the territory. There is certainly a moral superiority complex.

"She thinks she's right about everything, she looks down her nose at everyone else. You're either a believer or a non-believer — you're with her or against her."

After former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith described May as having "the sofa up against the door", one source likened the "bunker mentality" inside No 10 to Downfall, the 2004 film about Hitler's final days underground.

"It's a cliche to say it looks and feels like Downfall, but it really does. The sofa being against the wall — that's exactly true."

A senior Tory source who has previously worked for May added: "The bunker mentality is understandable. I've seen it at Number 10 before and it's not just about who is going to be sacked but the 100 people in Downing Street that go with her.

"It's one thing to lose your job when the leader is overthrown, but when a leader is overthrown with their career in tatters — what does that say about your job prospects?"