FILE - In this Friday, June 9, 2017 file photo Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May listens as the declaration at her constituency is made for in the general election in Maidenhead, England. A general election called by May to bolster her party's numbers in Parliament to help with the Brexit negotiations backfires as her Conservative Party loses its majority and continues in a weakened state as a minority government.(AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May's time as Conservative Party leader ended Friday, not with a bang but a whimper.

May, who announced her departure two weeks ago after her career was undone by the Brexit mess, formally stepped down in a private exchange of letters with the party, leaving almost a dozen Conservative contenders fighting to replace her and resume the stalled quest to lead Britain out of the European Union.

The second female prime minister in British history spent the day quietly in her home constituency west of London, rather than the prime minister's residence at 10 Downing St.

May will remain as acting leader and prime minister for a few weeks while the party picks a successor, who will become the next prime minister.

Conservative lawmakers will hold a secret ballot on Thursday, with any candidates who don't get at least 5% dropping out. Further rounds will be held the following week until the field is narrowed to two.

The final two candidates will meet in a runoff that will be decided in a mail-in vote by the country's approximately 160,000 Conservative Party members. The winner will be announced the week of July 22.

So far, 11 Conservative lawmakers are running to replace May, vowing to succeed where she failed and renegotiate Britain's deal to pull out of the EU.

There's just one problem: The EU says that's not going to happen.

"There will be no renegotiation," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said — not for the first time — last week.

On Friday, Juncker lamented: "Everyone understands English, but nobody understands England."

May, 62, has seen her three years atop party and country defined, and ultimately destroyed, by Brexit.

The Oxford-educated daughter of a rural vicar, she was picked as party leader in July 2016, weeks after Britain voted 52% to 48% to leave the EU and her predecessor, David Cameron, resigned.

After many months of negotiations, the 27 other EU nations finally agreed late last year to a detailed withdrawal plan with May's government.

But in one humiliation after another for May, the plan has been rejected three times by Parliament, doomed by both lawmakers who wanted more of a clean break and those who wanted a softer Brexit that kept close economic ties to the bloc.

With British politicians deadlocked, departure day was postponed from March 29 to Oct. 31, and many of May's Conservative colleagues decided she and her plan had to go.

The impasse has transformed the U.K.'s political map. May's Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party are both fractured over how to leave the EU.

Frustrated and angry voters are turning away from the big parties to the upstart Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage and — on the other side of the European divide — the Liberal Democrats and Greens, who want Britain to remain in the EU.

Farage's Brexit Party came close to winning its first seat in Parliament on Friday, narrowly losing to Labour in a special election in the city of Peterborough. Labour's share of the vote fell sharply from the last election in 2017, and the Conservatives came in third.

Despite the loss, Farage said the result showed that British politics has "fundamentally changed," with the stranglehold of Conservative and Labour now broken.

The bookmakers' favorite to replace May as prime minister, tousle-haired Brexit champion Boris Johnson, has warned that the Conservatives face "extinction" if Britain doesn't leave the EU on Oct. 31.

Johnson is one of several contenders — including Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Health Secretary Matt Hancock — promising to go back to Brussels and make changes to the Brexit deal.

"I believe that European leaders want to find a way through this," Gove wrote in the Daily Mail.

But the chances that the other EU countries will consider reopening the legally binding agreement appear slim at best. Even as the Brexit saga has dragged on and the pressure of a potentially disastrous "no-deal" Brexit mounted, no European leader has publicly shown an appetite for renegotiating any part of the 585-page text.

Hard-core Brexiteers in the British leadership contest say they would rather take Britain out of the bloc with no deal than countenance a further delay.

That message resonates with many Conservative members, who are much more pro-Brexit than the British population as a whole.

But most economists and businesses say a no-deal Brexit would cause economic turmoil, imposing obstacles overnight between the U.K. and the EU, its biggest trading partner.

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Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this story.

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Follow AP's full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

FILE - In this Tuesday, April 18, 2017 file photo, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives to speak to the media outside her official residence of 10 Downing Street in London.  A general election called by May to bolster her party's numbers in Parliament to help with the Brexit negotiations backfires as her Conservative Party loses its majority and continues in a weakened state as a minority government.(AP Photo/Alastair Grant, FIle)
FILE - In this Tuesday, March 19, 2019 file photo, Boris Johnson, Britain's former Foreign Secretary and prominent leave the European Union Brexit campaigner walks away after leaving the Cabinet Office in London. Britain’s High Court has quashed a bid to prosecute Conservative lawmaker Boris Johnson for allegedly lying during the country’s 2016 European Union membership referendum. Two judges on Friday, June 7 threw out a lower court’s ruling that Johnson should be summoned to answer questions about Brexit campaigners’ claim that Britain pays 350 million pounds ($446 million) a week to the EU. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)
Nigel Farage the leader of Britain's Brexit Party poses for photographers before delivering a letter addressed to
Nigel Farage, left, the leader of Britain's Brexit Party and the party chairman Richard Tice deliver a letter addressed to
A street cleaner sweeps outside 10 Downing Street in London, Friday, June 7, 2019. Prime Minister Theresa May is stepping down as Britain's Conservative party leader later Friday, defeated by her failure to take Britain out of the European Union on schedule. She will remain as prime minister for a few weeks while the party picks a successor. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A police officer stands guard as Larry the Cat waits to go in the door of 10 Downing Street in London, Friday, June 7, 2019. Prime Minister Theresa May is stepping down as Britain's Conservative party leader later Friday, defeated by her failure to take Britain out of the European Union on schedule. She will remain as prime minister for a few weeks while the party picks a successor. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A street cleaner empties a rubbish bin in Downing Street, London, Friday, June 7, 2019. Prime Minister Theresa May is stepping down as Britain's Conservative party leader later Friday, defeated by her failure to take Britain out of the European Union on schedule. She will remain as prime minister for a few weeks while the party picks a successor. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
FILE - In this Tuesday March 28, 2017 file photo Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, sitting below a painting of Britain's first Prime Minister Robert Walpole, signs the official letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, in 10 Downing Street, London, invoking Article 50 of the bloc's key treaty, the formal start of exit negotiations. Theresa May says she'll quit as UK Conservative leader on June 7, sparking contest for Britain's next prime minister. (Christopher Furlong/Pool Photo via AP, File)
A close-up of the door number on 10 Downing Street, in London, Friday, June 7, 2019. Prime Minister Theresa May is stepping down as Britain's Conservative party leader later Friday, defeated by her failure to take Britain out of the European Union on schedule. She will remain as prime minister for a few weeks while the party picks a successor. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
This handout photo provided by the 1922 Committee on Friday, June 7, 2019 shows the official announcement of the resignation of Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May. British Prime Minister Theresa May formally steps down as Conservative Party leader on Friday, defeated by the Brexit conundrum. No public event is planned to mark the occasion as May's time at the helm ends, not with a bang but a whimper. (1922 Committee via AP)
A police officer stands guard outside the door of 10 Downing Street in London, Friday, June 7, 2019. Prime Minister Theresa May is stepping down as Britain's Conservative party leader later Friday, defeated by her failure to take Britain out of the European Union on schedule. She will remain as prime minister for a few weeks while the party picks a successor. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Nigel Farage the leader of Britain's Brexit Party gives a television interview after delivering a letter addressed to
Nigel Farage the leader of Britain's Brexit Party leaves after delivering a letter to 10 Downing Street addressed to